In this month's exclusive interview, the designers of Libris Mortis discuss roleplaying with and against the undead, Dick Clark's place in the undead universe, and the logic behind becoming a good lich.
Wizards of the Coast: In your introduction to Libris Mortis, you mention that you researched a number of resources for information about the undead, including pop culture. Can you expand on the pop culture research you did? (Personally, I was grateful to see The Night Stalker in your appendix for inspirational reading and viewing.)
Andy Collins: I think that Joss Whedon's Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Angel series (both off the air but available on DVD) are crucial viewing for anyone looking to play an undead-heavy campaign, even if it's not set in the modern day. For dramatic campaigns, look to almost any (serious) movie version of Dracula, from Bela Lugosi's classic performance right up to the recent Bram Stoker's Dracula (particularly if you can ignore Keanu Reeves's presence). Action-oriented campaigns will probably get more use out of the recent Mummy and Mummy Returns flicks.
Bruce Cordell: For my part, pop culture has less impact on my conceptualizations of the undead. Well, unless you count The Evil Dead and its many sequels. Oh, and perhaps 28 Days Later (I know, not technically undead, but close enough). Does Salem's Lot count?--the book, not the movie. Even Changeling, for its dramatic hauntings and spooky sets, influenced my work on this book. Now I know that movie is too old to be considered part of pop culture.
Wizards: Just out of curiosity, where would Frankenstein's monster fall on the chart? Was he even technically undead? And Dick Clark -- undead?
Andy: Technically, Frankenstein's monster is more flesh golem than undead, but Dick Clark is clearly a vampire.
Bruce: Frankenstein--reanimated body parts sewn into a dysfunctional whole. Marvelous! Dick Clark--preserved body parts slowly fading. Less satisfying.
Wizards: Undead Religion stands out as an unusual chapter -- one might think that the undead are beyond the reach of religion. What is the most strikingly original take on undead religion in the book?
Bruce: In the D&D multiverse, many undead are free-willed individuals, and as such, can pursue hopes and dreams, react to fears, and set goals. But beyond even that, there are those who yet draw breath who are drawn to the worship of death, either for personal power or because of an internal drive towards self-destruction.
My favorite undead god in the book is Evening Glory -- in a very twisted way, this perfectly preserved beauty represents undying love, physically untainted by years of life and living. Those who worship Evening Glory are lovestruck, who believe that the dissipations of age should not cause love's flame to die. Embrace the perfect preservation of undeath, her church teaches, and possesses love eternally.
Wizards: The Character Options chapter allows players to play an undead character or add an undead familiar, cohort, or other companion to their adventuring group. You outline some of the advantages and disadvantages (like immunities but a lack of constitution). Describe your experiences playtesting this idea. How difficult is it to roleplay an undead character?
Andy: The challenge of roleplaying an undead character really depends on the mood you're trying to accomplish. Everyone's familiar with the angst-ridden vampire, attempting to atone for his/his people's evil ways. But what about the character turned into a ghoul by actions beyond his control? Is he mad at the world? Does he go a little (or a lot) crazy because of his new condition? And then there's the character who's become a wight or mohrg for entirely "normal" reasons -- because he was a horrible person in life. Does he continue along the same path, or does he try to turn over a new leaf? And if
he does aim to repent, why is he doing it? Does he think that an eternal reward awaits him if he becomes a better person? Why or why not?
Bruce: I've played a character that was secretly undead, and this can work very well for a while. In many D&D games, every character has a certain something special in their backgrounds, and being undead, and hiding that fact from your comrades, can be both fun and challenging. By the time they realize what your character truly represents, hopefully they can overcome their "life-ism" enough to not slay you out of hand.
Wizards: The prestige classes and undead prestige classes are particularly interesting. Which ones do you think players will really gravitate toward? (The true necromancer is bound to continue as a much-played class!)
Andy: I like the fact that there are a variety of prestige classes that offer benefits to the "hunter of undead," from the sacred purifier to the deathslayer. The pale master is a really creepy option available both to PCs and NPCs.
Bruce: Some of these prestige classes are updated from Tome and Blood, including the true necromancer and pale master (originally named the more alliterative "pale apprentice" in Tome & Blood, but the name of which underwent a change prior to publication). These remain some of my favorites.
Wizards: The book contains lots of new spells, alchemical substances, positoxins, magic items, and wondrous items, and the idea of an undead graft is awesome -- I imagine that getting vampiric fangs grafted on will be hugely popular. What are your favorites among the new spells and items?
Andy: I like the new alchemical substances (some of which made their first appearance in Dragon magazine) and the positoxins -- poison-like substances designed for use against undead creatures -- because they allow any character to carry some effective anti-undead tools. They also work well in low-fantasy campaigns, where access to powerful spells or magic items might not be as common.
Bruce: What's not to like about force-growing a sentient undead tumor in the body of your enemy, then using that mass to influence your enemy, or kill him, as you desire? Well, okay, it is pretty gross, but if you're going to make a grade-one necromancer, you can't let squeamishness stand in your way!
Wizards: The new monsters are particularly horrifying. The angel of decay seems like doom just waiting to descend on a party, and you really can't go wrong with a monster called "brain in a jar." In your opinions as both gamers and designers, what are the monsters in Libris Mortis for parties to watch out for?
Andy: I get shivers every time I think about fighting a corpse rat swarm. I mean, as bad as it would be to be covered in rats, imagine if they were rotting?
Bruce: While tomb motes may initially seem inconsequential, get enough of them together, and you've got trouble. The same goes for the slay mate -- alone, it won't prove too much trouble, but teamed up with a necromancer, the slay mate magnifies its master's power. Likewise, the forsaken shell (the animated skin from an unfortunate humanoid) may not seem too scary at first, until it wraps around its victims and squeezes their life from them.
Wizards: I read and reread the idea of the lich variant "good lich." So, I guess the interview question here is . . . really? A good lich??
Andy: While most of us would shudder to think about transforming our bodies in such a manner, in a truly fantastic world I don't find it so much of a stretch to imagine the possibility of deciding, "Yes, it's worth giving up my physical health and vitality in order to live forever" without having to also be a megalomaniac or mass murderer.
Bruce: I guess it all depends on how well preserved you can convince yourself that you'll end up being. Wait, I mean your character. Anyway . . . preservation on par with a vampire -- that doesn't seem too bad. But flesh dropping from your bones with each movement . . . well, now it's hard to stay good when you've got that sort of nuisance to deal with.
Wizards: What did you have to leave out of this volume? Are there plans for future adventures or books centered around some of the concepts from Libris Mortis?
Andy: I didn't intentionally leave any topics out of the book -- if it felt worth writing about, I found a place for it.
Bruce: We tried to fill this book with as much undeathly coolness as possible. But that being said, there are many more cool interactions of undeath and game mechanics still available to play with. Libris Mortis is a fabulous book, but of course it is only a single volume.
Wizards: What are you working on now?
Andy: As a member of the RPG development team, I work on most of the core D&D products on the schedule. My recent development projects have included Complete Adventurer, Races of Destiny, and Races of the Wild.
Bruce: I've got a few things on my plate -- in fact, I'm finalizing something that I was designing last time I was interviewed, so I'll give you the same answer (since it doesn't yet appear in any catalogs): I'm working on a book that every player will want because it focuses on those things for which every player peers through the back of the Dungeon Master's Guide and that every player character covets, longs for, and slavers over while adventuring.
Wizards: Finally . . . what do you suppose is served at the average undead Christmas office party?
Bruce: Undead Christmas office party? Well, the ghouls are happy with any old rotting limb, but more refined undead might find that candied fingers, blood pudding, and headcheese are just the thing for preserving holiday cheer.