So Syp over at BioBreak was musing the other day about the inclusion of Necromancers in Guild Wars 2. Its not a moral pondering so much as it is a question of: what is the internal consistence of games that allow for heroes that play with dead things. Its a question I’ve gone over before myself with other people, and, on a memorable (and humorous occasion) with my oldest daughter. So I thought I’d give a few of my thoughts. If you want the TL;DR version, skip to “Why I Enjoy It.”
What is a Hero?
Almost immediately in the comments sections came a chorus of “who says I’m playing a hero? I’m just a gal/guy out to [fill in the blank].” But that’s not really “not being a hero” – that’s just being a different type of hero, specifically, an anti-hero. These days the best known of those would, I think, be Wolverine from the X-Men. As an operational definition for the purposes of this blog, I would specify anti-hero as the figure who carries out heroic deeds without the accompanying heroic attitude or passion. Another good example would be Cade Skywalker from the Star Wars EU – descendent of Luke, he wants to live his life free of Republic, Empire, or external controls. Eventually he realizes that he is “destined” to fight the Sith, not because of the Force or his Legacy, but because they pissed him off and he hates their guts. Other motives might be cash (Parker from The Hunter novel, or at least the Mel Gibson Payback version of him) or a desire for power (Raistlin).
Clearly, Necro’s could – and have various times in literature – fit within these schemes. So they make perfectly viable heroes – in the since that they can still carry out heroic initiatives in a game where motive is not a concern – or at least not enough of a concern to prevent their participation. But there are so many ways of using the term “necromancer” from the standpoint of how they operate, that there is room for non anti-hero types as well.
What is a Necromancer?
I think there are three main “types.”
For example, Gail Z. Martin’s main character is a focal point for the ghosts and traumatic past of a betrayed kingdom. In this way, you could argue that he is more of a Spiritist or Medium than he is Necromancer, but then I would note that this is one of the original meanings of the term “necromancy.” In this vein, even good guys like Aragorn, aka Strider, can go necro on you in a heartbeat. Many games have gone this route – in fact, the Ritualist from the original Guild Wars would fit quite well.
On the other hand, there are skeletons and zombies and the like, what I think of as the classic necromancer – hordes of undead to do your bidding! I believe the necromancer class from Age of Conan holds the record still, with up to 11 pets out at one time. This raises the question of the metaphysics of your game world – what is powering all those dead things? The original souls? Does that mean they are not in their paradisical afterlife? Or they are cursed? Do they have any recollection of before? Does anyone mind that Uncle Bob is now under the bidding of the town necro?
Last is the person who just likes to muck about with the dead, or be more like them, or utilize the things of dead for power or gain. Or at least sympathize them – like the Dirge of Everquest 2. Perhaps the most “gross” of the those, this is the person who tends more towards the Frankenstein side of the stage. Maybe they are building a pet for themselves, “restoring” a loved one, or just have a fetish for all things dead. The most memorable for me here would be 3rd Edition DnD’s Pale Master, who also made an appearance in the Neverwinter Nights series. The original is more true to the PnP form than the sequal, showing off a character who replaces one hand or arm with that of an undead creature, and crafts a sort of exoskeletal armor of bone. In the actual 3rd Edition description, one of the requirements of achieving this prestige class was to spends three nights locked in a tomb with the undead. The idea was a sort of kindred spirit bonding wherein the undead accepted you as one of their own. The end result was empowerment and the ability to call on them as needed. Creepy, but interesting.
This version of the necromancer is the one who perhaps best personifies Syp’s “playing with dead things” mantra. And it probably also best fits the Guild Wars 2 version of the necromancer, with its ability to transform into a version of death itself, and call upon all things deathy – not just minions – to get its point across.
As for me? I’ve played a necromancer class in every game that has ever given me that option, even if they weren’t my “main.” Most often they were a solo character for me, as in group play I tend towards healing. In EQOA I had a Shadowknight for solo and tanking. Thought EQ’s IP on this has changed over the years, originally the SK was simply a Warrior/Necromancer hybrid. In EQ2 my main was a half-elf necromancer. In Vanguard my first character and solo project was a Vulmane necro. Age of Conan – of course, necro. Neverwinter Nights? Pale Master of course, as as my favorite 3rd edition Pen and Paper character. Warhammer Fantasy army? Vampire Counts – but lead by a necromancer. Even up to today – Guild Wars 2 – Norn necromancer.
Why I Enjoy It.
But why? I’m not a horror movie buff. I’m not into all things dark and scary. But there is something intriguing about the concept, and I will submit that it is out of curiosity that I play them all the time. You see, I want to know how it fits into the storyline and the world. Is the necromancer and outcast to understands death and the spirit world? Is he pressed into service because his power makes him a needed part of the front/war/survival game you are involved in? Do people mind his involvement? Can he overcome the natural revulsion to gain the trust – and even affection – of those he is working for? What is his motivation and what is the end game for him? What lead him down this path? Will he think its worth it?
In other words – they are just more interesting than the hero running around in sword and armor ans working for money. Or the hero destined for great things who always has fate on their side. I play necromancers because they get my creative juices flowing. They help me engage more in the game by setting up a tension I have to resolve, if not within the game itself, at least within myself as I play and “develop” the character in my mind.
My daughter still thinks its weird that I play “dark” characters. And that’s fine. I think its weird that she thinks New York is the greatest city in the world. Perhaps we all see some things through rose colored glasses.