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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Pellatarrum: Burial Rites for Orcs

Burial Rites: Orcs
Part 2 of "Dealing with the Undead"
by Demonic Bunny

The orcs believe that they are all part of the eternal fire. Each orc is just a kindling and a small part of the great flame. They do not fear death, as it is merely a return to the great fire. They do not necessarily believe in reincarnation, as when you die any unique characteristics die with you, but your essence, your inner fire, will go on to be redistributed among a new generation of orcs. They care little the body, as it is mere fuel, but believe that the smoke of a funeral pyre will carry the orc's inner flame directly to the great fire.

This practice has a fairly large drawback: it drastically increases the chance that the deceased will rise as an incorporeal undead. Fortunately, the orcs have devised of a way of dealing with this problem.

In the days of the Orcish Empire, before their cultural apocalypse at the hands of the rest of the elder races, the duties of dealing with this problem fell upon the ash warriors (also called “ash eaters”), a cult of warrior-monks who specialized in fighting the undead. Their name came from the ritual practice of eating the ashes of an orc that had risen as an incorporeal undead. As even incorporeal undead are still bound to their corporeal remains, this ritual ensured that the spirit would be forever bound to the body of the monk in a kind of symbiosis. The undead spirit was no longer capable or roaming outside the ash warrior's body, and in return the ash warrior promised to perform great feats of bravery in the name of the dead spirit.

Given the rarity of the ash warrior monks and the magnitude of the problem, the terms "ash warrior" and "ash eater" became synonymous with the possessed. Even though the ash warrior was fully in control of his actions, to outsiders it was difficult to tell the difference between an undead creature's  hatred for all life and an orc's lust for combat. Once the warrior died in combat -- which was often --  the spirit bound to him would follow him to the afterlife. Unless, of course, that warrior's ashes were consumed by another ash warrior...

These days the ashwarrior order is no more, and their secret methods for achieving the spiritual strength to remain in control of their bodies were lost with them. However, the custom of ash-eating still remains. It is a duty that most often falls upon the greatest warrior of a tribe, but in the symbiosis between warrior and undead spirit the balance often tips in favor of the spirit rather than the living. These possessed warriors remain a constant threat for the civilizations that live on the borders of orcish territories.

(In game terms, ashwarriors were dual-classed  Savage Barbarian and Hungry Ghost Monk with a feat that allowed them to bypass the alignment restrictions of both classes. Fortunately for GMs, the philosophy behind this feat has been lost to the ages.)

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