Saturday, April 20, 2013

Images of the Dead

based on ideas from Mrs. Wampus

It doesn’t take a necromancer to understand that images of the dead hold within them a strange power - the memories of lost loved ones well up when we spy even a face which slightly resembles them.  Memories are potent in the magical realm, and so too sympathetic links.  The wizards of the Wampus Country know well that sympathetic energies reside within images of the dead, and have explored their exploitation for centuries.


Golden death-mask found in a subterranean ruin south of River-Town.  The mask is quite magical, granting clairvoyant abilities, but it also comes with a terrible curse.
Archaeological digs [1] have unearthed a number of death masks from the so-called ‘Peacock Period’ of our history, a time of warring sorcerous kingdoms.  The faces of monarchs and wizards alike were preserved with death masks composed of layers of gold flake, painstakingly painted and glued together in hundreds of layers.  The construction of a death mask was considered a devotional task, performed tirelessly over days.  These masks are true representations of the faces beneath, and bear strong magical correspondence.  Although not all death masks manifest sorcerous power, many do - and these abilities and curses are typically a reflection of the person whose image they bear.  

Experimental death-mask crafted by a modern wizard.
The death mask tradition has largely been eclipsed by current culture, but it has its descendants, in two very different places.  First, some secret societies - primarily those catering to necromancy-focused wizardly types - are reviving the masks, both in precious metals like silver and gold, and in more mundane materials such as plaster [2]  Who knows what nefarious research is being conducted at this very minute by scarlet-robed thaumaturges?  Masks also play an important role in the culture of several savage tribes in Wampus Country, primarily for ritual purposes.  Although the shamans of the Black Eagles and Cloud Rabbits both wear monstrous masks during certain dances and holidays, it is the shaman caste of the Red Sky People, known as Watchers, who have perfected the art of the death mask, perhaps inheriting it wholesale from the Peacock Period.  Watchers know the secret means of making death masks of colorful leather which preserve the honor and courage of a fallen warrior; this mask is then passed to the eldest son.  Many Red Sky braves charge into battle wearing their grandfather’s face, preserved in calfskin dyed in bright colors [3].


Death photo taken by a less-than-scrupulous wizard.  He claims his photographs prevent the dead from rising, which of course they can; but he can also use the tintype to query the spirit of the deceased regarding hidden monies and blackmail-worthy family secrets.
In recent years a few wizards have experimented in translating the death mask tradition to modern technology, by means of the art of “tintype necromancy”.  At base, this practice involves the same sorts of incantations and preparations employed in making a classic ensorcelled death mask; however, instead of creating a sympathetic link to the deceased via the painstaking creation of a physical mask, these modern wizards employ photography to snap a photo of the corpse (often posed in as lifelike a fashion as possible, to enhance the link).  Later magical processing of the tintype increases the sympathy and the magical potential of the item.

Memento Mori (wizard 2)
This ritual initiates the process of creating either a death mask or a tintype which is infused with sympathetic magic - a still-living link to the deceased.  Either actual physical contact with the deceased’s face, or an image as true as a photograph, is required; a painting or sculpture will not suffice to enact the magic.  The entire ritual takes 8+1d4 hours to perform - either making and enchanting the mask, or properly awakening the potential in the tintype.  The resulting object is the memento mori, which may be used as a sympathetic object or trigger for many other magical effects (including divination, or control of the undead).   One cannot make a memento mori of a creature which is already undead, or is ill-preserved.  Possessing an appropriate memento mori may increase the efficacy or range of a number of spells, at the DM’s discretion, such as protection from evil (if the evil force is the ghost or undead remnant of the person in the photo), dispel magic (when attempting to dampen said undead creature), remove curse, animate dead, contact other plane (when used to speak to spirits of the dead, if the DM allows it), reincarnate, and any number of other variant necromantic spells, where appropriate. The memento mori may also stand in as an appropriately-themed component when crafting a magical mask.


[1]  The fact that several of these archaeological expeditions involved stabbing subterranean creatures to death makes them no less scholarly a pursuit.

[2] One such group is the Simian Brotherhood, who are obsessed with unlocking ancient secrets of magic, in pursuit of power.  No group has delved deeper into the City of Mazes than they.

[3] Warriors of the Red Sky People may be treated as berserkers in all respects.

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