Age of Heroes
Death and Beyond
Death and Beyond
This chapter tackles the important issue of death in an Ancients game. All characters aspire to die well, in accordance with the precepts of their religion or philosophy. Some make their entire lives a preparation for death; the pyramids we associate with Egypt are, let us not forget, titanic graves.
What Happens After Death
What happens to a character after he dies depends on the Gods he revered during life. The Greek and Egyptian cultures have very different views on the fate of the dead person’s soul.
A character who followed one of the Egyptian pantheon finds himself in the Hall of Ma’at or Truth, when he dies. The God Anubis weighs the character’s heart against a feather in a pair of scales, thus finding out whether the character was a good or bad person in life by Ancient Egyptian standards. If the character had the disfavour of his deity or was a follower of Set or Apophis, then he is judged an evil person; his heart is torn out and eaten and he is dispatched to the Egyptian equivalent of Hell, from whence his spirit may not return unless called up by potent magic. (This makes him into a ‘wicked spirit’, for which see the Bestiary.) A good person is allowed to pass on. A character who passes the judgement stage becomes a spirit, bound to a body that no longer has any hit points. Technically, the one of his seven souls known as the ka or ‘double’ is what is here meant by ‘spirit’; we do not wish the players of this game to have to undertake a course in Ancient Egyptian theology before they can play it!
Before the body is mummified, the ka begins with zero hit points, making it technically ‘dispelled’, for which see Spiritual Creatures below. Although the character’s ka, even while in a dispelled state of zero hit points, can observe what happens on the material realm within five feet of its body, it cannot move about, absorb offerings, manifest or do anything else that involves interacting with the world unless the body is properly mummified and the ka made active. This must be carried out within three days of death or the condition of the body deteriorates to such as stage that mummification is not possible. If the body is competently mummified with all the proper rites, which requires a full day of work and a Craft (embalmer) skill check at DC 10, then the spirit of the character gains enough integrity to interact with the material world once again. He becomes an active spiritual creature with one hit point. The ka of a dead person cannot travel more than ten miles from the person’s mummified remains. It can, however, enter the Tuat and attempt to speak directly with the Gods.
As an active ka, the character can now interact with the world once again, visiting friends and conversing with them, but only so long as someone provides him with offerings, so that he can increase his hit points to more than one and thus manifest himself. In Ancient Egyptian tradition, it was the family of a deceased person who made offerings. This was a very serious responsibility. To fail to do so was to betray your ancestors, who were counting on you to make their afterlife a bearable one. The spirit of a mummified character has a maximum number of hit points equal to the result of the Craft (embalmer) skill check that was made to mummify him. The better carried out the embalming was, the more power the ka of the character can retain. If the mummy itself is ever smashed, broken up or otherwise destroyed, then the ka can no longer gain hit points from offerings. This is one reason why tomb robbing is seen as such a hateful crime in Ancient Egypt.
Characters who become kas may no longer accumulate or spend divine points. They now interact directly with the Gods. Although a ka may converse with the Gods, it is forbidden to speak of what it learns to those who are still alive in the world. Any who seek to know the will of the Gods must do so through the usual channels, namely the use of the Prophecy skill or the use of Prayer to produce divination effects. Any character that is duly mummified and interred in a tomb may draw upon a reservoir of hit points, just as if he were drawing upon a power amulet. He cannot use these to raise his hit points higher than the maximum, though he may take a standard action at any time to transfer hit points from the reservoir to himself. The amount available depends on the size of the tomb; see the table below.
A tomb reservoir recovers hit points at the rate of five points per day, irrespective of size, so long as the tomb remains sealed. Multiple characters that are interred in the same tomb can all draw upon the hit point reserve, so long as the tomb is dedicated to them. Even if you somehow arrange for your mummified body to be buried in a pyramid that is not yours by right, you can no more draw upon the stored hit points than you can consume an offering left for another. Anubis is not fooled by such mortal schemes. Once a tomb is sealed, it is supposed to remain so. If a tomb is ever opened, whatever the ostensible reason for doing so might be, then it no longer functions as a reservoir of energy. This, as will be apparent, is yet another reason why tomb robbers were seen as the absolute scum of the earth.
When a Greek character dies, the God Hermes appears to them and conducts their spirit to the underworld, leaving them on the banks of the Styx. If the character has the fare to pay the ferryman (two silver oboli or an offering to the same value, which must be buried or burned with the character) he is ferried over the river Styx by Charon and passes to the underworld, where it lingers among other spirits in a more or less neutral state of being. If he cannot pay his fare yet, he must remain as a restless shade bound to the earth; see below. It is common practice to place two silver coins on a dead character’s eyes, so that the ferryman will be assured of his price. Those characters that died with the disfavor of their deity are placed into torment appropriate to their deeds. For the majority of souls, there is neither pain nor any pleasure in the underworld, just a dim grey eternity of waiting. Characters have the option to drink from the river of Lethe if they so choose; this obliterates all memories they had of a life before their underworld existence, which makes the experience more bearable, since as far as they are now concerned, they never knew any different. If they retain their memories, then they have to endure the knowledge that the life they lived before will never again be theirs. Heroic characters enjoy a different fate when they die. Upon death, a heroic character is allowed to make a hero level check, reckoned as d20 plus his level, with a DC of 25. If he makes his check, he is reckoned worthy to sit alongside the Gods and to spend eternity in the blessed Elysian Fields. An ascended hero becomes a minor deity of sorts. Characters in future games may take him as a deity and he may become the focus of a cult. Ordinary dead Greek characters do not have the option to revisit the world like Egyptian ones do. This is down to cultural difference and the Egyptian fascination with death and the survival of the spirit.
This is not to say that a dead Greek character who did not make the heroic grade is excluded from ever taking part in the game again. Other characters can speak to the shades of dead ones. By descending into the underworld, a character’s former team mates can visit the shade and ask him questions. This is not the straightforward journey that it appears, as descent into the underworld is fraught with danger; though it is easy enough to get in, getting out again is next to impossible.The Greeks also have one possibility open to them that the Egyptians do not, which is that of retrieval and resumption into the world of the living. If a dead character’s shade is ever physically taken from the underworld back to the world above, the character is alive once again. The moment the light of the sun touches them, they automatically become solid, fleshly and real, as if they had never died. The Gods are profoundly opposed to this and have only ever sanctioned such action once, when the bard Orpheus went to plead for the release of his dead bride Euridyce. Orpheus succeeded because of the sweetness of his music and the unbearable sadness of his song; players might succeed through other means.
Though the underworld is ruled over by Hades and Persephone, who refuse to allow any of the shades of the dead to leave except under very special conditions, the Goddess Hecate has control over temporary leave of absence for dead souls. By her authority, a shade can be allowed to visit the upper world for a short time, so that others can speak to it and learn things from it. This is the origin of the story that witches can go to a crossroads (sacred to Hecate) or to a pagan burial site and call up the shade of a dead person, who may then be spoken with. This ability is covered in the Invocation magical effects section.
Offerings to Spirits or The Dead
It is an accepted fact of life in the ancient world that spirits can absorb sustenance from offerings. People eat food and grow strong because of it; it follows that spirits can eat food, too. Cultures in the real world to this day believe in making offerings for the dead. Incense is seen as a speciallygood offering to make, because the smoke that it makes is insubstantial and vaporous, like the spirits themselves are; since it is closer to their natures, it can fortify and sustain them better than food alone. As an ancient saying has it, ‘may the dead rise and smell the incense!’ In accordance with the strange laws that govern such things, an offering made to a named spiritual creature can only be accepted by that creature and not by any other. If you make an offering of incense to your uncle Ankh-af-nakhonsu, then the ka of Ta-nech his wife cannot accept it, however much she might wish to. You may therefore make offerings to the named dead in the assurance that they will receive them. The Egyptians explained this by attributing to the God Anubis the responsibility of making sure that offerings dedicated to a person actually reached them, so we here assume that by the grace of Anubis, all offerings do indeed reach the person that they are intended for.
Hecate, as the Queen of the Dead in the Greek system, fulfils a similar role. In the Greek system, you may also make offerings to spirits. The Greeks prefer to make animal sacrifices rather than offering food or incense. Greek witches working with the darker side of magic often use blood sacrifice as a means of rewarding a wicked spirit that has done as it was supposed to, as the vitality of the blood is absorbed by the spirit and increases its hit points. The usual deal struck is that the spirit goes and observes some event invisibly, an action that costs it no hit points, then returns and reports what it has seen to the witch, who rewards it with a sacrifice for its trouble. The spirit thus gains energy and the witch gains information. No spirit can absorb energy from food or incense unless it has been specifically dedicated as an offering. Spirits cannot, for example, hover over banquets and gorge themselves on energy, though they can linger at a banquet and sadly observe the people feasting on food they cannot themselves eat. (This is where we get the phrase ‘ghosts at the feast’.) If you choose, you may leave offerings for ‘the dead’ or ‘the spirits’ without specifying whom they are for. Such offerings can be absorbed by any spiritual creature that happens to be nearby, except of course the ka or spirit of a living person. It is considered good manners to do this in places that you believe may be haunted, as the bodiless spirits appreciate those who think of them, while they are inclined to act maliciously towards those who neglect them.
Both the Greek and the Egyptian cultures have feast days on which it is customary to make offerings to the dead; the Egyptians are so concerned with death and the afterlife that making offerings is a daily concern of theirs.
Projecting the Spirit / Loosing the Ka
Even though you can send your ka or spirit out of your body while you are still alive if you are an accomplished user of Hekau or Witchcraft (see the Magical Effects section) you cannot consume offerings or incense. Your source of vitality is the living physical body that you have left behind. You may however attempt to perform a drain life magical effect on another creature if you have the ability to do so. As with all spellcasting, you must be manifest in order to do this. Any hit points garnered are gained by your spiritual body, not your physical body. Once you return to your body, your hit points as a spiritual creature are (as it were) poured back in to your hit points as a physical creature, up to your maximum possible hit points. You cannot heal wounds by this method, so you may only regain hit points up to your maximum minus any wounds you have. In brief, draining other people while out of your body is a very efficient way to recover hit points lost from spellcasting but no good for healing yourself of physical wounds. Draining another person is not an acceptable act by the standards of many of the deities. Apophis and Set favour it, while Hecate allows it if the victim is deserving.
If those who buried you were considerate enough to provide you with material objects for your use, then you have such objects in the spirit world. Such objects cannot be ordinary examples of their kind; for example, you cannot simply entomb an ordinary chariot alongside a friend and expect him to have it in the afterlife. Preparing an object that will have a spiritual correlate for a dead person’s use requires a Hekau skill check at a DC of 15; the object itself must be made to at least ordinary standards by a suitable Craft check. It is permissible to include symbolic objects; if the Hekau check is effective, these will still become real objects in the spirit world. For example, if you entombed a gilded spear made entirely from wood with a friend, then his spirit form would have an ordinary metal-tipped spear, not a wooden one. The art of entombing objects alongside people so that their spirits can make use of them is entirely Egyptian and has no parallel in Greek practice, hence the use of the Hekau skill to prepare such objects. Part of the point of the Hekau check is to dedicate the objects for your exclusive use. No other spirit can use an item that has been dedicated to you. If the physical object should ever be removed from your presence (moved more than 20 feet away from your mummified form) or altered in any way, you can no longer use it. Since a dedicated item must be within 20 feet of the mummified person in order to be useful, important Egyptian tombs tend to be absolutely packed with objects that the person might need in the afterlife, from chariots to spears to hunting dogs. These objects are only useful in the spirit world; if you should manifest, you can have them with you but as you cannot attack physically, they are no especial use to you. In the spirit world, they are very useful indeed, as they count as spiritual equipment. You can create a spiritual item as a magical item but it will only function as such in the spirit world. A wooden spear consecrated as a spiritual object with a +2 enhancement bonus is nothing but a wooden spear in the mortal world, although it functions as a +2 spear in the spirit world. A character in the spirit world that has no equipment is as helpless as a character in the real world in a similar state. Robbing from the tomb of a dead person is not only desecration but also burglary to the mind of an Ancient Egyptian. The objects are still in use and if you steal Besna- maut’s silver cosmetics box from her tomb to sell to a foreigner, she is going to have no kohl for her eyes when she dines with the Gods.
Spiritual or discarnate creatures are those who have no bodies. This includes such spectral forms as the shades of the dead, wicked spirits, demons and malefic ghosts, the souls of witches who have left their bodies and gone wandering or the kas of Egyptian priests who hover above enemy positions to spy upon them. Spiritual creatures cannot be attacked by ordinary physical means, as they are intangible and a weapon would pass right through them. They may however be warded off or even banished by prayer. Spiritual creatures have two modes; dispelled and active. A dispelled spiritual creature is invisible, incapable of action and to all intents and purposes, not there. Spiritual creatures are dispelled when they have zero hit points. After 24 hours, the spiritual creature gathers its essence back together and becomes active again, with one hit point. It cannot increase its hit points any further than this without drawing upon some outside source of strength. Dispelled spiritual creatures that are free-roaming reappear in their own preferred realm once they have become active again; dispelled spiritual creatures that are bound to the world reappear in the spot to which they are bound. Spiritual creatures are real and solid to one another. Two spiritual creatures may even fight. If they do so, then all damage is removed directly from their hit points rather than being suffered as wounds. If a spiritual creature is reduced to zero hit points by another spiritual creature, it is dispelled. The following additional rules apply to all spiritual creatures.
- A spiritual creature never suffers damage as wounds, though it may lose hit points. As with any other creature that does not suffer damage as wounds, a spiritual creature is not vulnerable to sneak attacks.
- All spiritual creatures can fly at a speed of 50 feet per round with perfect maneuverability.
- Spiritual creatures are either bound to the world or free roaming. The projected spirit of a spellcaster is bound to the world, as he still has a body. A ghost that haunts a given area is bound to the world, as it must remain there. A demonic spirit that was summoned from the netherworld is free roaming, is not bound to the world and does not automatically return to the same spot in 24 hours if dispelled.
- The default state of all active spiritual creatures is invisible and intangible. They may pass through walls, floors and even people. Any character within 30 feet of a spiritual creature may make a Wisdom check at a DC of 10 to ‘feel a presence’.
- Spiritual creatures must manifest themselves in order to interact with the real world in any way. Manifestation makes the creature visible, as a transparent, ghostly figure. While the creature is manifest, it loses one hit point per round. The only interaction with the real world that does not require manifestation on the spiritual creature’s part is the absorption of ritual offerings. Manifestation is a free action. A spiritual creature can cease manifestation as a free action, though it may not do so on the same round on which it has manifested.
- A manifest spiritual creature that is reduced to zero hit points, and thus dispelled, is forced to cease manifestation. Those that are bound to the world may not manifest again until they have regained strength by absorbing offerings or otherwise gaining power. Those that are free roaming are returned to their own realm.
- Any character may attempt a Prayer check to keep a spiritual creature at bay. (Characters with ranks in Hekau may use this skill instead.) This does not dispel the spiritual creature; it merely wards it off. A spiritual creature kept at bay cannot approach within closer than 5 feet of the character keeping it at bay and will not willingly do so. The Prayer check to keep a spiritual creature at bay is made against a DC of 10 plus the spiritual creature’s Hit Dice (or character level) plus its Charisma ability score modifier plus any resistance modifiers to such attempts that it may have. Once a Prayer check to keep a creature at bay has been made successfully, it need not be made again for 24 hours. A failed Prayer check to keep a creature at bay cannot be attempted again for 24 hours.
- Any character may attempt a Prayer check to disrupt a spiritual creature. (Characters with ranks in Hekau may use this skill instead.) To do this, the character must successfully touch the manifest spiritual creature (or the body of the creature that it is occupying) with a symbol of his deity or with an open hand. This requires a successful melee attack. You can make such an attack even though the manifest creature is insubstantial. (If you are using a symbol, you may throw it, thus making a ranged attack instead.) The Prayer check is then made as a free action. The Prayer check to disrupt a spiritual creature is made against a DC of 15 plus the spiritual creature’s Hit Dice (or character level) plus its Charisma ability score modifier plus any resistance modifiers to such attempts that it may have. A disrupted spiritual creature is instantly reduced to zero hit points.
- Any manifest spiritual creature may attempt to possess a living creature and control its actions. To do this, it must move into the target’s space. The target can resist the attack with a successful Will save (DC 15 + the spiritual creature’s Charisma modifier). A creature that successfully saves is immune to that same spiritual creature’s possession attempts for 24 hours and the spiritual creature cannot enter the target’s space. If the save fails, the spiritual creature vanishes into the target’s body. While the spiritual creature is in possession of the victim, it uses its own Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma ability scores, skills and feats and uses the Strength, Constitution and Dexterity ability scores of the host. As possession counts as a form of manifestation, the creature must still expend one hit point per round to sustain control of the host creature’s actions. Spiritual creatures that are possessing living creatures may be kept at bay as above but are not forced out of the creature they are occupying; the host creature is itself kept at bay. You may make a Prayer check to disrupt a spiritual creature while it possesses another person. If you are successful, the spiritual creature is reduced to zero hit points but is rendered dormant (see below) instead of being dispelled.
- A spiritual creature that has successfully possessed a character may voluntarily allow him to regain control of his actions without ending the possession. A spiritual creature in this state is referred to as ‘dormant’. A dormant spiritual creature regains one hit point per hour; drawn from the living energy of the person it is possessing. The host does not lose these hit points, as they are taken from nutrients that his system has not used. The possessing creature is in this respect a parasite, like a ghostly tapeworm.
- In cases of possession, if the host creature is killed, the spiritual creature is instantly dispelled. This also applies to undead in all cases except that of the death-lantern.
- A spiritual creature may cast Hekau or Witchcraft spells if it has the ability but must manifest in order to do so. It may not cast spells against any creature who is keeping it at bay or who it has made a failed attempt to possess within the last 24 hours. A spiritual creature in possession of another creature may cast spells but draws the energy to do so from its own hit points, not those of the possessed creature.
- A free-roaming spiritual creature that is bound into a prepared material body (such as a composite mummy) becomes an undead creature (see below) and is no longer counted as a spiritual creature.
An undead creature is the result of a spiritual creature entering and animating a body made from one or more corpses. (Some spiritual creatures may enter and animate a dead body that has not been specially prepared.) The spiritual creature possesses the artificial body made from dead matter just as it would possess a living person. The great advantage of this is that it can then move around in the physical realm, move objects and attack with weapons. Once a spiritual creature has been bound into an undead body, it cannot then leave of its own accord. Undead creatures may be kept at bay, just like spiritual creatures. They can also be disrupted, though if this happens, their body crumbles to pieces. An undead creature that is smashed to bits or otherwise destroyed with physical damage is simply destroyed; the animating spirit most commonly returns to its own realm, its job done.
Most undead are the result of corrupt magicians using Hekau spells to summon wicked spirits, commanding them to obey and then binding them into the body of a dead creature. Such undead as composite mummies, bowel-eaters and skeletal gnawers are artificial undead. When a wicked spirit takes possession of a dead body, it no longer has to expend hit points to remain manifest, unlike possession of a living creature. This is because the dead body offers no resistance to the spirit’s presence, whereas a living creature’s own inherent spirit is always fighting to regain control. Some undead creatures arise spontaneously. The spiritual creature known as a death-lantern (see the Bestiary) can take possession of any dead body, so long as it has not been given funerary rites (see Consecration effects) and animate it. Such a creature is called a prowling corpse and is detailed in the Bestiary. Unlike other undead creatures, a death-lantern may abandon a corpse that it has entered. Destroying the corpse does not dispel the death-lantern. Creatures that consist of a spirit animating a dead body can sometimes create others like themselves by slaying living creatures, as in the case of the ‘thirsty ones’. When a thirsty one feeds on a character and kills him as a result, a form of contagious magic sometimes affects the dead body so that the living spirit of the character is trapped within the corpse, unable to move on to the afterlife. This results in a new thirsty one. The magic that keeps the body animated overrides the better nature of the spirit, meaning that only a vestige of the character’s original personality remains.
The only way to liberate the spirit of a character who has become undead is to destroy his tainted body. The visits of wholly discarnate spirits can also create undead creatures if the victim is killed. For example, a character that is drained by the nocturnal visits of a lustful one arises as an undead monster in much the same way as the victim of a thirsty one. The victims of lustful ones become stalking shades. Magicians who know the proper Hekau rites for self-animation, a form of truly twisted sorcery, can avoid the judgement of Anubis by binding their own ka back into their body at the moment of death, thus reanimating their own dead corpse. Such walking horrors come to resemble the ‘animated mummy’ of horror films, swathed in bandages and reliant on preservative fluids to keep their bodies from falling to bits. They dread having their bodies destroyed, as their liberated spirit would then have to face judgement and undoubtedly be consigned to damnation, their hearts ripped out and devoured by Anubis. A magician who uses Hekau to force his spirit back into his dead body is called a ‘defiled one’.
Undead creatures are immune to mind affecting magic and critical hits. They do not suffer grievous wounds, nor do they have a Constitution score. When they are reduced to zero hit points, they are destroyed. Some undead, such as defiled ones and thirsty ones can be decapitated. If it becomes necessary to calculate an undead creature’s grievous wound threshold, assume that it is identical to the creature’s Strength ability score. Undead do not have divine points.