Blue Collar Necromancy
by Jacob Possin
It’s just a job, dealing with this stuff. The high and the mighty talk all day about High Sorcery and Holy Alchemy, but when things go wrong the necromancers come in to fix the problem. There ain’t no theory in necromancy, it is practical know-how that matters. All the book learnin’ in the world won’t save you from the eldritch horrors and their minions. It’s a dirty job. It’s a messy job. It’s our job.
-Jedidiah Black, Veteran Necromancer
Magics of the Modern World
Magic has always existed. It was dark and mysterious, the power of the gods. For thousands of years, witch doctors, god talkers, and shamans kept the secrets of magic and used them to keep back the night. Three hundred years ago, two events upset this equilibrium: the discovery of High Sorcery and the Church’s monopoly on Alchemy. Thus began the primacy of the greater magics and the decline of the old magics, the basis of modern necromancy.
High Sorcery, High Alchemy
The discovery of High Sorcery by Gretta the Great changed everything. She unearthed the secrets of manipulating aether, the breath of the gods. Only a select few had the ability, and Gretta gathered all she could to her banner, leading directly to the first Lineage of High Sorcerers.
At around the same time, a man named Christophe Victorine left the Hermetic Order and wrote Une étude de l’âme de la Matière, A Study of the Soul of Matter. It set out the precepts of alchemy and how it related to humanity’s place in the universe. More importantly, its contents worked consistently and well. The Church destroyed all copies of the book save for those they controlled. This was the beginning of Holy Alchemy, and the Church’s monopoly on technology and science.
The Fall of the Old Ways
As these discoveries were made and these power bases began to grow, the shamans and priests of the old ways began to lose prestige, seen as rudimentary and superstitious. Only the most dedicated or desperate would remain practitioners, and the skills and knowledge took on a distasteful new name.
Many called these old ways black magic—not because they were evil, but because they were seen as a remnant of a darker age when magic was simple and rough. Much like a garbage collector or a plumber, these practitioners were seen as necessary but undignified. As High Sorcery and Alchemy rose in power over centuries, it was thought that these practices would fade from the world. Then the war began.
The War and Rise of the Dead
The Final War began when Princess Brunhilde of Austria-Hungary was assassinated by an anti-royalist group said to have received funding from the British. War came quickly to these two nations, drawing in the allies and enemies of both. During the conflict, horrors were unleashed upon the world, weapons and magics never before seen. The death toll was incalculable.
Influenza and attrition ended the war fifteen years ago, but the wounds suffered—mental and physical—have yet to fully heal. Plagues followed the war as flies follow garbage. Economies crashed and a great depression set in. Some claim these are but signs of the true horrors to come.
During the aftermath of the war, necromancy’s necessity became apparent. The millions dead or dying—and the millions more mourning the loss of life—unbalanced the universe, threatening cities and towns alike. Necromancy slowly rose as a profession once more, unpleasant but essential in a world filled with the dead. Yet after ten years, the scars are still burnt into the aether. There has been no rain in the farm lands for years, and the dust storms rattle across the Great Plains. The despair and horror create more ghosts every year, and draw in things far worse than that.
As a Quick Start Adventure, Blue Collar Necromancy has everything you need to jump right into your first session. Before you start, you’ll want to discuss the broader setting with your group. The game is set in Chicago in early 1934—the height of the Great Depression—so read aloud parts of the setting you think they need to know.
At the start of play, explain the current issue to your players and ask them to fill in one or two additional faces associated with the issue. These extra characters will provide new plot hooks and twists to tie your players more deeply to the strange phenomena they face as necromancers. Then ask your players to choose from one of the two available impending issues: Those Who Meddle and End of the World. Have them fill in one or two additional faces for their chosen impending issue, as well, rounding out the larger cast of characters.
Current Issue: Undead on the Rise
With the Great Depression and the remnants of the Great War, the aether is out of balance. The weather and the soil have begun to turn on folk—many say it is due to the undead or the overuse of High Sorcery or Holy Alchemy. Nobody’s quite sure why it is happening, but everyone is quick to blame. Suicide and murder are on the rise, and the dust that gets kicked up is causing all manner of maladies. The dead are not getting proper funerals. It is not just ghosts on the rise—zombis and evil spirits are arriving in record numbers.
- Thomas Kildere, a doctor devoted to unlocking the secrets of life and death.
The Ghost of Adler House, the ghost of Henry Adler, formerly an outspoken advocate for the lower classes.
High Concept: Well-To-Do Doctor
Trouble: The Resurrection Man
Other Aspects: Knowledge Is My Scalpel, ”Friends” High and Low, Genius Is Madness
Great (+4): Lore
Good (+3): Contacts, Resources
Fair (+2): Deceive, Rapport, Will
Average (+1): Crafts, Investigate, Notice, Provoke
Truth of the Bones. Gain a +2 to Investigation when dealing with corpses or cadavers.
Maddening Intellect. You may use Lore to defend against Provoke, provided you can justify it through the use of information or logic.
Weight of Reputation. Gain a +2 to Contacts when you defend against lies attempting to besmirch your name.
Mild (2) | Moderate (4) | Major (6)
Impending issue: Those Who Meddle
The sorcerers at the college have begun to disappear and there are signs of spirit activity related to this. In truth, a vampire is attempting to overcome the limitations of the half-dead and become truly immortal. His very presence is polluting the aether, making ghosts and other phenomena more common. If left to his own devices, he will kill and devour, unbalancing the aether even more.
- Lord Fillip, a vampire from Spain, recently arrived in town to kidnap magical theoreticians in order to further his research into immortality.
- Dr. Hugo Riccardo, a professor of magical theory who is searching for his missing graduate students.
Impending Issue: End of the World
A prominent businessman has decided that the world has grown corrupt and evil, and wishes to destroy it by summoning the Great Unchanged. Over the years he has constructed several odd buildings at specific locations. Each of these was designed to enhance and channel the aetheric energies. Should he and his doomsday cult succeed, the Titans, the Jotun, and worse will return, and all will suffer.
- Father Mallory, a local priest concerned with the rising number of undead.
Herschel, a businessman-turned-cult leader who seeks the end of the world in the service of the Great Unchanged.
In Blue Collar Necromancy you take on the role of necromancers attempting to drive back the darkness and save the living from the ravages of the dead. No one respects the job you do, but you are the last line of defense between mankind and the end of the world.
Blue Collar Necromancy is designed for use with Fate Core. Create the characters as normal, save for a small change in aspect generation and the addition of a new skill; complete only two phases of the phase trio for your character, and use the final aspect for a necromancy aspect—explaining why your character chose to hunt ghosts and put them to rest.
After creating characters, the players should take a few moments describing their office and their relationship with the powers-that-be. Remind them that the relationship is strained. They provide a useful service, but no one likes to pay them to do such a dirty job. Discuss a few previous jobs and how they went.
Necromancy has become organized in response to the rising number of spiritual threats. Necromancers have societies, guilds, or unions that have negotiating power with the authorities. When ghosts crop up, folks know to go to the central office of the necromantic community.
Necromancy is, at heart, dealing with horrible things from outside the normal universe—primarily the undead and the restless dead. Other things reside outside the universe; some will trade information, and some are just pests to be kept out.
High Sorcery and Holy Alchemy
High Sorcery and Holy Alchemy are important magical practices, but they are not available to Player Characters. Blue Collar Necromancy focuses on necromancy and those who practice it. If you eventually expand to include higher magics, here are some quick setting notes:
- Sorcery is born of the blood, from your mother’s side.
- Sorcerers have supernal skill in an area and can grant boons to their followers.
- Holy Alchemy is the manipulation of base matter and energy.
- Through sacrifices and rituals, Alchemists create any material they need.
The Necromancy skill captures the training, talents, and skills of those who can manipulate the dead, often working to send them on to their final rest or destroy them completely. There are no prerequisite skills for Necromancy; all you need is to study the topic and select it as a skill. Oddly enough, some of the best monster hunters, while part of a necromancer organization, do not have the Necromancy skill.
Overcome: Use this skill to force a ghost into corporeal manifestation for a short while (allowing the more physical necromancers to fight the beast directly). It also can be used to summon a spirit, demon, or ghost, though it is very difficult without the creature’s true name. This skill does not reveal information about spirits.
Create an Advantage: When you need to set up a special ritual circle or implement that will aid in dealing with a spirit, demon, undead, or tear in the universe, you can use Necromancy to create an aspect related to some necromantic tool.
Attack: Cannot be used to attack directly.
Defend: Cannot be used to defend directly.
Hardened Soul. When summoning a spirit or ghost, you may reduce the stress dealt to you on a failure by one.
Practical Magic. If you succeed with style on a Necromancy roll to overcome an obstacle, you create a full aspect rather than a boost.
Removing ghosts and other spiritual entities requires work. The Necromancy skill is only useful after you have gathered the correct information. Once you have the ingredients and requisite information, you must perform a summoning ritual to bring the spiritual entity to you. This is a dangerous proposition, as your spirit must touch the one you are contacting and draw it back in. If something goes wrong, you could die. Once you have the creature bound in a circle, you must either make it physically manifest so it can be fought directly, or you must engage verbally with the creature and convince it to leave this mortal plane.
You will need several things in order to bind a ghost: the ghost’s True Name, its connection to the world, its weakness, and the properly created circle and accoutrements (goat or chicken blood, incense, sanctified salt, and more esoteric items). The difficulty of summoning a ghost is based on its power. Poltergeists are the most powerful and require a difficulty +8 (Legendary) to summon. Knockers are less powerful and require a difficulty +6 (Fantastic) to summon. Haunts are the weakest type of ghost and only require a difficulty +4 (Great) to summon. These numbers are high, but for each task you have completed, you may lower that difficulty by 1. If you fail the Necromancy roll, you take stress equal to the difference you failed by. Should the stress cause a consequence, the ghost gains an attachment to your character and a bonus of +1 to one of its skills for the remainder of the game. Ghosts gain power by creating emotional links to others.
Fail: The spirit appears, but it is not bound within the circle and it has done the difference of the roll to the summoner in stress.
Tie: It appears and is bound, but has dealt one stress to the summoner.
Success: It appears and is bound within the circle. It cannot leave the circle unless someone breaks the circle.
Success with Style: You also gain a boost on the ghost.
The Nature of Undeath
The undead come in many shapes and forms, but they tend to fall into one of three categories:
The Restless Dead
When aether becomes unbalanced, it focuses on points of great human emotion. Wars, funerals, murders, and suicides are lightning rods for aether imbalance, though no one is sure why. When that emotion builds up, it draws a piece of the soul out and creates a ghost. The greater the emotion, the more powerful and unbalanced the ghost or spirit. The longer a ghost exists, the more power it has. The ghost’s power is connected to the number of people who have had a negative encounter with the ghost. Ghosts feed on the pain of the living.
The Hungry Dead
Sometimes a burial goes wrong. Sometimes the subtle humors of the body remain after the soul has passed. This is when the hungry dead rise. There’s nothing left of the soul—only the desires of the flesh remain. The simplest of the hungry dead are the zombi. Those few that survive long enough go through a transformation. They become guhls. Faster, stronger, and more cunning, the guhls hunt actively for prey. Should there be enough aether around to draw it in, a spirit or demon can inhabit the guhl, granting it powers and intelligence and enhancing its appetites. Beware the demon-infested guhl.
The Half Dead
When an Alchemist or Sorcerer tries to gain life eternal, an exchange must be made: a life for a life. As time passes, these now damned individuals must kill more and more to continue their existence. The magics slowly drive the users mad, shattering their soul, and something else inhabits the body. This is where vampires, werewolves, mummies, and others originate. Experiments in immortality always fail.
Spirits have two aspects that motivate them. Passion is their driving emotion, a simple and direct negative emotion, as those are the easiest for the dead to deal with. The Secret is their hidden self—anything from memories they cling to and repeat over and over, to a strong affinity for an object or person. Spirit minds are fragmented, so they often cannot express why their secret is important or even remember what it is.
Spiritual beings have a broad set of skills that let them interact with the world of flesh. As creatures of emotion that require strong connections to grow in strength, many of their abilities are focused on creating advantages and attacking mortals’ mental stress tracks.
Elements: the ghost can increase or decrease the temperature of a room, shake the ground, or create strange phenomena (like blood dripping from walls and the like).
Sounds: from ominous whispers to terrifying, booming shouts. Ghosts can terrify with auditory commands.
Knocking: pushing objects over, flinging them across the room, stacking them in unusual formations.
Attachment: ghosts can elicit strange feelings in people, bursts of intense emotion that seem to come from nowhere. This also can cause terrifying nightmares.
These abilities are relative to the strength of the ghost. A poltergeist will have +7, +5, +3, +1, A knocker will have +4, +3, +2, +1. A haunt will have one at +3, one at +1 and the remainder at 0. Should the ghost deal a consequence to a Player Character, increase one of the ghost’s skills by +1. A ghost has stress based on its Attachment skill, equal to the rating.
An old and powerful ghost who haunts an orphanage.
Passion: Protect What Is Mine
Secret: All Children Are Mine
Great (+4): Attachment
Good (+3): Sounds
Fair (+2): Elements
Average (+1): Knocking
Undead on the Rise
The characters are approached with a job by the police. A man has been murdered and it looks like a zombi attack. The murder scene is the Adler Mansion, a labyrinth of a building on a sprawling estate.
Scene 1: A Dark Intelligence
The Adlers, a well-to-do family of great wealth and renown, claim to have no knowledge of what happened, only that they’ve had otherworldly issues with the family estate. A ghost of some power has begun to exert influence over the family. Both the zombi and the ghost are of the eldest son, Henry.
As the PCs investigate, some facts will crop up: there are signs of a haunting throughout the house, and the family is very evasive about Henry, claiming he has been on an extended business trip for the last year—the same timeframe for the strange happenings. While the PCs search the house, the zombi is hunting them.
With a connection to the ghost borne from its creation, the zombi has more subtlety than most and attacks only when it becomes difficult to leave the house. While filthy and terrible to behold, the clothing it wears is of the highest quality and tailor fit. The zombi is the notable villain, but the ghost will also take turns to quietly grant aspects to the zombi and manipulate the situation to gain power. Play up the strange effects of the situation and let the players know something is feeding on them. The zombi fights until defeated.
To properly put a zombi down, you need to complete a challenge scene: the necromancers need to hold the thing in place (Physique vs +3 difficulty), incant the ritual (Necromancy vs +2), and then burn the body and salt the ashes (Resources vs +1 to have the right materials on hand, or a Investigate vs +2 to find and use makeshift materials that will do in a pinch).
Aspects: No One Wants a Necromancer Here; Labyrinthian Decadence; Emotion in the Air; Secrets Buried Deep
Remaining in Place
The longer a ghost remains in a place, the more the aether becomes unbalanced. Things decay at uneven rates. Chairs molder and fall apart right next to imperishable bowls of fruit. Rats, mice, and insects appear in great numbers, alongside shrews, bats, spiders, and cats. If the ghost exists long enough, time and space can become muddled, as well. Hallways will stretch on forever, or they will disappear in a single step. In a truly haunted house, nights can last a lifetime.
The Police Detective
Let the Necromancers Deal with This Nightmare, Appearance of Competence, Corrupt Bully
Good (+3): Investigate
Fair (+2): Contacts
Average (+1): Provoke
Leader of a Powerful Noble Family
Don’t We Have People for this Sort of Thing?
Keep It All in the Family
Great (+4): Resources
Good (+3): Contacts
Fair (+2): Deceive
Average (+1): Rapport
Beautiful on the Outside, Broken on the Inside
Great (+4): Deceive
Good (+3): Resources
Fair (+2): Notice
Average (+1): Empathy
Black Sheep of the Family, Emotionally Unstable, Great Power Requires Great Ambition
Great (+4): Deceive
Good (+3): Rapport
Fair (+2): Contacts
Average (+1): Burglary
Powerful and Fast Undead Killing Machine
Connected to a Ghost
Betrayal and Rage Are All That Remain
Fantastic (+6): Fight
Superb (+5): Physique
Great (+4): Athletics, Stealth
Strange Connection. Whenever the zombi deals a consequence to a PC, treat it as if the ghost of Henry had done the consequence (increasing its connection to the PCs and increasing its power).
Killing Stroke. Once per scene when a PC would take a consequence, the zombi can increase the severity of the consequence taken.
Mild (2) | Moderate (4) | Major (6)
The Ghost of Henry Adler
Passion: Wrath Against the Living
Secret: My Family Must Pay
Epic (+7): Elements
Superb (+5): Attachment
Good (+3): Sounds
Average (+1): Knocking
Scene 2: The Grind
Once the PCs are deep in the house, the ghost will try to place aspects on the scene to hinder the PCs and get them to fear it. It gets one create advantage roll for every PC die roll. Throughout, make sure the PCs understand that something is interfering with them. They are necromancers; they’ll know what to do. This scene involves gathering the information, tools, and resources required to summon the ghost.
Information the PCs may gather from the house and NPCs:
- The ghost’s True Name is Henry Adler.
- Mary and Horatio teamed up to kill him so they would inherit.
- The ghost is weak to any artifacts of its mother, Beatrice.
- Beatrice died of influenza and all of her things are sealed up in the attic.
- The ghost is connected to the location of its murder, the root cellar beneath the kitchen.
- Percival has been ill recently; this is due to slow poison by his daughter and brother.
While the PCs travel through the house and talk to the detective and the Adlers, the ghost will be continuously trying to harm them. Stress does not go away—there is no rest on this job. Players should see you spend the fate points against them. Make sure aspects in use are visible so they can try to remove them or use them in interesting ways against the ghost.
Scene 3: It All Falls Apart
When the PCs summon the ghost, the last act of the story begins. If they make it manifest, this final confrontation is a straight fight: the ghost can attack with Knocking or Elements and defend with Attachment or Elements. When enough stress has been inflicted, it will disperse. Should there be more than a minor consequence to one or more of the PCs, there is a chance that it’ll come back in the future, with a different connection and weakness, based on how they took it out.
If they decide to talk it into letting go, the PCs must engage in a contest with the ghost. It will use Attachment as its primary rolling skill and use the other skills to build advantages. If it succeeds, it wants the whole family dead before it will go away, and it breaks free of the circle. If it loses, then it disperses and never troubles the world again. The players can negate one of the ghost’s successes by taking a consequence, and if the uncle and sister were arrested prior to summoning the ghost, they start with a one success lead.
Plot Hooks and Adventure Seeds
Digging into the Nature of Things
After the fight with the undead in the Adler house, there will be some cleanup. The body needs to be laid to rest and there may be evidence of misdeeds to be handed to the proper authorities or kept as leverage. In the chaos that follows, the body of Henry Adler goes missing. Dr. Kildere has hired thugs to get ahold of the remains of a zombi. For what dark purpose does the Resurrection Man want zombi remains? Can the necromancers stop him?
Love of Fear
College boys have gone missing at a local university. One every week for the last month. The police have had no luck in finding them. Last week, a body turned up drained of blood. Rumors begin to fly that a vampire is loose on the campus. The detective in charge of the investigation has been told to bring in necromancers in case it is true. Will the necromancers find the vampire before more young men go missing? How old must the vampire be to need a victim a week? What do they do when the police obstruct their investigations?
Sounds from the Void
Father Mallory has come to the necromancers for help. He believes a social club started by Herschel is seeking to end the world. The Diomedes Club is filled with rich and powerful members of society seeking to remake the world in their image. Will the father get past his bias as a priest and alchemist and deal fairly with the necromancers? Can they stop the plots of the mad cult? What horrors has the cult summoned and kept in the depths of their club? +
The bastard son of a noble house, Jedidiah had no place in the world of high society or low. He naturally fell to the outskirts. In his teen years, he ran into a haunting and the group of necromancers who dealt with it. He found he had a knack for ghost hunting. He’s been doing it ever since, much to the chagrin of his family.
High Concept: Hardened Ghost Hunter
Trouble: Bastard Son of a Noble House
Necromancy: Hunting Is My Calling
Other: Sally Is My Responsibility • Dorothy Needs Watching
Great (+4): Fight
Good (+3): Athletics, Physique
Fair (+2): Notice, Shoot, Will
Average (+1): Burglary, Contacts, Drive, Stealth
Ghost Fighter. When fighting ghosts, you deal two additional stress on a successful attack.
Unkillable. Once per session, at the cost of a fate point, you can reduce the severity of a moderate consequence that’s physical in nature to a mild consequence (if your mild consequence slot is free), or erase a mild consequence altogether.
Push through the Pain. You can choose to ignore a mild or moderate consequence for the duration of the scene. It can’t be compelled against you or invoked by your enemies. At the end of the scene, it comes back worse, though; a mild consequence becomes moderate, and if it was already moderate, it becomes severe.
Mild (2) | Moderate (4) | Major (6)
She never wanted to be a necromancer. She started as a researcher, looking into mystic theory. The further she looked, the more she desired to understand the older methods, “the underpinnings of the universe,” as she called it. She went freelance, joining any union or firm she could. She has stolen several necromancers’ techniques this way, and is looking to add Church’s techniques to her own.
High Concept: Professor of Magic Theory
Trouble: Unrepentant Glory Hound
Necromancy: All the Secrets of the Universe
Other: I Will Have Church’s Techniques Sally Is a Useful Lever
Great (+4): Deceive
Good (+3): Lore, Necromancy
Fair (+2): Contacts, Empathy, Will
Average (+1): Fight, Notice, Physique, Rapport
Backup Weapon. Whenever someone’s about to hit you with a Disarmed situation aspect or something similar, spend a fate point to declare you have a backup weapon. Instead of a situation aspect, your opponent gets a boost, representing the momentary distraction you suffer having to switch.
Mind Games. You can use Deceive in place of Provoke to make mental attacks, as long as you can make up a clever lie as part of the attack.
Practical Magic. If you succeed with style on a Necromancy roll you create a full aspect rather than a boost.
Mild (2) | Moderate (4) | Major (6)
His name is not Church, but that is what everyone calls him. He is the founding member of this necromantic union, and the last of the old guard. Recently Church has been mentoring his granddaughter in the ways of Necromancy. He fears the family’s methods will die out, and wants to pass on his wisdom while he still can. He has seen just about everything there is to see. He worries that he has begun to lose his edge.
High Concept: Grizzled Veteran Necromancer
Trouble: Age and Despair
Necromancy: The Traditions Must Be Passed on
Other: My Granddaughter Is the Last of My Line Dorothy Is Gunning for Me
Great (+4) Investigate
Good (+3) Necromancy, Will
Fair (+2) Contacts, Notice, Provoke
Average (+1) Craft, Drive, Fight, Rapport
Human Lie Detector. You can use Investigate instead of Empathy to defend against Deceive attempts. What others discover through gut reactions and intuition, you learn through careful observation of expressions and body language.
Unflappable. +2 to defend against Provoke attacks specifically related to intimidation and fear.
I’ve Been Around a While. Whenever someone initiates a conflict against you in an area where you’ve built a network of contacts, you use Contacts instead of Notice to determine turn order, because you got tipped off in time.
Mild (2) | Moderate (4) | Major (6)
The only child of her generation in the Obannon family, Sally expressed interest in Necromancy from an early age and devoted a great deal of study to it. She is currently apprenticed under her grandfather, Church. She dreams of bringing back the old days, when necromancers went by other names and were respected.
High Concept: Prodigy Necromancer in Training
Trouble: Leaps Before Looking
Necromancy: I Will Bring Glory Back to Necromancy
Other: Grandfather Is Far Too Serious Secret Crush on Jed
Great (+4) Necromancy
Good (+3) Empathy, Rapport
Fair (+2) Investigate, Notice, Will
Average (+1) Athletics, Deceive, Lore, Provoke
Optimistic Charmer. Once per session you can reduce someone else’s consequence by one level of severity (severe to moderate, moderate to mild, mild to nothing at all) by succeeding on an Empathy roll with a difficulty of Fair (+2) for a mild consequence, Good (+3) for moderate, or Great (+4) for severe. You must speak with the person for at least a half an hour in order for this effect to take place.
Namer. You may use Investigate in place of Lore when searching for a True Name.
Necromantic Prodigy. Gain a +2 to Necromancy overcome rolls for summoning poltergeists.
Mild (2) | Moderate (4) | Major (6)