I’m a big fan of the idea of ‘natural magic’. By which I do not mean magic with a naturalistic source, such as the magic used by a shaman or a druid. Frankly I’ve always found ‘nature’ as a power source for magic to be boring. Rather, by ‘natural magic,’ I refer to magical effects which have no caster. Magic which merely exists for one reason or another. Sometimes it is merely a law of the universe that when X or Y occurs, a magical effect will happen. Other times a place may become inherently magical because a great deed was performed there. Or in some cases there may have even been a caster involved at one time, but it was so long ago and the magic has taken on an effect so different from what the caster intended, they can’t properly be called responsible it.
Natural magic could come from any school. A natural abjuration effect may prevent demons from treading upon the ground where a saint was martyred. Whereas a natural enchantment might come about because two famous lovers once carved their initials into a tree, and now any who sleep beneath that tree fall in love. But as my readers well know by now, Necromancy is kinda my thing. It also suits the Halloween season.
And since I went to all the trouble of dressing the site up for Halloween, I ought to write some seasonal shit, right? Right. Lets do this.
Occasionally a rift will form at an intersection between two planes. An opening into the abyss might allow demons to come through into our world. Likewise, a rift which opened between the material plane and the plane of negative energy could cause any number of necromantic spell effects to occur. I like the idea that the shape of the rift determines how the negative energy filters through, which determines what spell effect it produces. The size of the rift could affect that spell’s power. I explored this idea in detail in an old post of mine called The Crypt of Ancient Wisdom.
A Necromatic Rift ice nice because it has the greatest potential for variety. They can appear anywhere, and cause anything. For example, a necromantic rift could sap the strength of anyone who dared venture into a certain valley, leaving them physically weak for the duration of their time there. Another necromatic rift could cause anyone buried in a certain graveyard to rise as vampires, or, as in the case of the Tragedy of the Gorovik Family, it could cause everyone in a certain crypt to be affected by a constant “Speak with Dead” effect.
Necrotic Rifts need not be a bad thing, either. While necromancy is regarded as an evil art, many spells of the Necromancy school (at least in Pathfinder and D&D) are not inherently evil. Spells such as Speak with Dead interact with death, but do so in a manner which is respectful. Or, at least, not an overt desecration. It would be easy to use a rift as a source of conflict within your game, but it could also serve as a prize for the party’s caster. Upon discovering and recognizing a Necrotic Rift, a caster could sacrifice one of their spell slots for the day to manipulate the rift, and cast any necromancy spell of equal level to the one they sacrificed. (They need not have the spell in any of their spell books to do this.)
Type of Death
The dead rising based on how they were killed or laid to rest has strong mythological and cultural grounding. If you’ve ever seen a slasher film you know what I’m talking about. The villain returned from the grave because they were betrayed, or because they were buried in a Native American burial ground, or simply because they were so damned evil that Lucifer himself rejected them.
The manner of death always affects the manner of undeath in these cases. A woman who is drowned by her lover and his mistress, for example, will spend her un-life on a quest to drown any pair of lovers she encounters. Particularly if they’re being unfaithful to others. Note that type of death can cause natural necromancy through either the action, or the inaction of the living. If the living actively cause the death of a person, such as in the example above, it can create a vengeful undead. If the living neglect the proper burial rituals of a corpse (whatever those rituals may be), that can also create an undead creature. Though these are often less specifically vengeful, and more generally aggressive towards the living.
I like nuclear fallout. Not in a literal sense, of course. Literally speaking, nuclear fallout is awful. But I love the idea that a large event can leave a residue of itself behind for centuries. Countless events could leave a necromatic residue behind on the landscape. For example. I imagine the spot where Vecna’s tower once stood, before it collapsed, would still be an area of powerful necromatic magic. Perhaps anything which died there would rise as a zombie or skeleton. If it is particularly powerful, perhaps anything which even enters the area must make a save versus death. Vecna is a god now, after all.
Other examples of events which could cause necromatic fallout would be the birth of an evil god, or a place where powerful necromancy spells were cast over and over again over a long period of time. The site of a great plague or genocide might also create a necromatic fallout. I also like the idea that an unsanctified graveyard or crypt might draw necromatic powers to itself, making itself an unholy place in the absence of blessings to keep evil at bay.