Since my monster creation blog was pretty successful, I figured I'd continue the theme to showcase how I make undead in a similar manner.
Undead creation for me is almost entirely block-building. If I'm making undead for a specific race (which is what I'll focus on at first), then I look at what makes that race tick and turn it on its head.
Looking through my bestiary, I notice that I don't have many undead for dwarves, minotaurs, aviadins, lizardfolk, centaurs, or elysia. Everything that follows is new. I'm excited to see what happens with these races! Update: This started to get pretty long right off the bat, so I'm splitting them into a few different posts.
Today, we'll be focusing on altering physical states of the races to create undead.
In WotA, dwarves are not as fleshy as they may be in other verses. Their bones and bodies quickly decompose to cold iron (distinct from natural iron as having strong antimagickal properties), and their skin and hair is similarly laced with metallic deposits.
I immediately start thinking of poisoned metal. Somewhere in my past consumption of media and science I've heard of ruining metal when it is in liquid form. Googling to see if this idea can be verified turns up little, but I immediately come across heavy metal poisoning, which starts the gears turning a different direction. I also file away the idea of rust, another way metal is ruined.
It makes sense that dwarves would be mostly immune to heavy metal poisoning the way humes think of it and that poisoning in general would be thought of as underhanded or lacking merit. Still, some corrupt individuals might seek to increase the levels of these unnatural elements if they go out in the world to hunt and kill non-dwarves. Or even to increase the poisonous materials in their own bodies to the point that contact or close proximity would injure or harm even other dwarves!
So we have a living basis for the undead to come. A dwarf that unnaturally seeks to increase the levels of toxic metals in his or her own body to be used as a weapon against others. With the idea of their antimagickal bones projecting an aura, it makes sense that they would be able to weaponize that same aura and convert the antimagickal field into an antimagickal toxic field. Similarly, this would provide a defense. Anyone that can overcome the field of the dwarf would not be poisoned, although it also is insidious in that even those that might have magickal protection to poison might fall prey to the dual antimagick/poison.
I draw a quick sketch and label it poison dwarf (undead) for future elaboration.
Now for rust.
Rust is corrosive and caused by impure iron's exposure to water, especially salt water, and oxygen. It can be prevented by galvanization and cathodic protection.
Very quickly in my head, the idea forms of dwarves having some sort of rust-like contagion that they believe marks a dwarf as either mixed descent or unclean (or having come into contact with one that is rusted). Maybe can be forced by a dwarven water torture where a dwarf is forced to sit in salty water for weeks. Although it doesn't cause organ failure, hypothermia or the problems faced by a hume, it does start to affect the metals of the dwarf's body, causing a rust infection. If that infection gets to the bone, then it can very easily kill the dwarf. Maybe dwarves have to worry about rust infections in any sort of unclean wound. Any dwarf that dies to a rust infection can rise as a variety of different undead: a rust skeleton, where only the cold iron bones are animated, but can cause infected wounds quite easily; a rust ghoul, where the undead dwarf is consumed with the desire to consume the flesh of healthy dwarves and pure metals; rust ghouls can graduate to a full-on rust pincushion where the pure metals consumed are turned to rust and protrude through the GI of the dwarf so that there are lots of nasty bits sticking out; and finally, why not combine the idea of the tainted antimagickal aura into a rusty aura, where the antimagick aura taints metal and causes it to corrode, aura of rust undead.
Unfortunately, some dwarves believe they are extra-prone to rust infections (maybe they're hemophiliacs, or maybe they actually are of mixed descent—note, being of mixed descent would not necessarily prompt being prone to extra infection, but that can be a form of dwarven racism), and so actively take steps to prevent rusting: galvanization and cathodic protection.
For galvanization, we are talking immersing the flat areas of the body in liquid metal for protection; vulnerable at the joints just like with real galvanization. Ideally, they'd try to get their hands on Galatean living metal, or work with their metallurgists to come up with the next best thing, as this would enable flexibility and more readily bond with their bodies. Immediately we have a dwarf that dies by galvanizing too much too quickly (probably by full immersion) could rise again as an undead (dwarven living statue). Mixed in with this unfortunate beast, we have the fact that in order to do this to themselves, the person probably hates themselves or their heritage quite a lot. Great fodder for undead.
As far as cathodic protection, it requires a sacrificial metal and an electric charge. The electric charge can be acquired in a variety of ways, from an alchemist, harvesting electric animals from underground streams, or even buying lightning tech from a Golgardian. Aligning their bodies to be able to channel the electricity isn't so hard when you consider they are dwarves and altering their constitution slightly can make them have different properties as needed of stones, earth and metal. Next, they need a sacrificial metal to act as an anode. Since we're talking about creatures that will become undead, it makes sense that they would use something quite dark such as the bones of other dwarves or possibly their own hand or another appendage. Electrifying themselves and "channeling the rust" into the anode will be what they are doing while they are alive, and this can easily kill them through an electric shock they can't handle, or if they are using their own appendage, a rust infection.
Once dead, I envision them as instantaneously causing other dwarves to rust by channeling their corruption into other dwarves and maintaining the electricity naturally (or unnaturally as the case may be). Tentatively calling them rust vampires.
These are just two physical characteristics that dwarves possess, and they've already added to the culture of dwarves as well as spawned seven undead creatures. Next up, centaurs!
(Note: Maybe more sketches to come, but I use them just to cement ideas more than as end-grade concept art usually).
Thanks for reading!
Update: Making Undead #2 is available here.