Wednesday, March 30, 2011

VG Meet DnD: The Ecology of the Necromorphs

"Their outlines were human, semi-human, fractionally human, and not human at all--the horde was grotesquely heterogeneous." --H.P. Lovecraft, "Herbert West--Reanimator"

[Below you'll find an ecology article written about Necromorphs, undead of the popular video game series "Dead Space". Following up on this article will be 3.5 write-ups of several different necromorphs. While converting them to 3.5 D&D I necessarily had to make some changes to their backstory, but for the most part they operate similarly to how they do in the games. You don't need to have played the Dead Space games, however, to use these deadly undead predators in your games. Enjoy.]

Lands should remain unplundered when their secrets are better left undisturbed. Buried deep beneath the surface of the earth, possibly having fallen from the stars aeons ago, lies the Marker and the creatures that follow it like a plague...the Necromorphs.

Necromorphs are the reanimated corpses of the dead, reshaped into horrifying new forms by a mysterious curse related to the Marker. They have no memories of their former life and are highly aggressive. Only one purpose guides the steps of the Necromorphs. “Spread the curse.”


Because few know of their existence, and by extension the Marker, there is little information on Necromorphs. What is known by the reclusive scholars, or the mysterious cultists who worship the Marker, comes from an incident outside the mining town of Aegis-Sven. The exact location of Aegis-Sven has been lost with time, as well as most information concerning the incident.

What is known was compiled by Sage Stross from the varied notes of the late Archmage Altman, who witnessed the event firsthand. While surveying the area for new ore deposits a group of miners uncovered an ancient artifact that had been buried beneath the surface and left undisturbed for countless years. The miners informed their superiors who sent for a nearby cabal of wizards and scholars to examine the mysterious object.

The Marker, as it came to be called, resembled a hunk of strange stone split in two halfway down with the two pieces twisting about each other like grasping spires. Its surface is covered in bizarre sigils and when touched it the thing hums almost inaudibly with some sort of pattern.

It was quite a find, so the cabal brought more of their kind to the site and requested lodging and assistance from the mining guild until they could assess the artifact’s purpose and worth. The guild agreed. Thus the scholars and wizards began their examination in earnest and the miners returned to their work in other tunnels.

The life of a miner is difficult: long hours underground, chipping away at solid rock with the risk of tunnel collapse, and the release of deadly gases from the interior of the world hangs over workers like a shroud. Perhaps it was because of this that no one paid attention to the early accounts of violence among the mining camps, many of which led to injury or death. When the suicides started some finally started to speak up about the peculiar change in behavior of the town’s inhabitants.

Citizens started disappearing and miners whispered of how the caves were cursed, all while the sages and wizards worked yet to unravel the mysteries offered by the strange artifact they began calling “The Marker.” The sigils from the surface of the Marker started appearing around town, written by people who had never had contact with the thing. Folk began to complain to each other of constant headaches and sleepless nights in which nightmares were filled with indistinct forms or the familiar voices of those already passed away.

The miners continued to dig deeper, chopping at the earth in search of resources, while the world around them continued on its dark path. Talk of the events it was done in hushed tones, and, following the guidance of their dreams, many began to twist two of their fingers around each other when scared or threatened in a mock replica of the Marker itself. The miners had cause to be afraid, a mysterious growth resembling flesh and sinew began to spread out from the deeper mines.

The cabal’s research consumed them, and they split into two camps. Some believed the Marker to be the instrument of some divine force and began to speak in sibilant tones about an event they called “Convergence”. These were the first Unitologists, believers in the “truth” of the Marker, who claim that through the teachings of Unitology all things will become as one. That the Marker would bring an end to war, to horror, to pain, and ultimately a transcendence over death itself.

None who lived in Aegis-Sven saw it coming. One day many of the Unitologists committed suicide in a holy sacrifice to their new god in the Marker. The bodies were quickly carried from the area and lain aside in a supply building until a mass grave could be made. One of the remaining wizards went mad and began slaying the miners as they worked, slinging powerful spells and screaming about monsters until he was brought down by the collapse of one of the tunnels. Many citizens left, never to return. Those who remained quickly discovered the folly of their action.

When the grave was finished, now made larger for the addition of the miners, those who came to the supply building to collect the bodies discovered none. Shortly thereafter screams could be heard coming from the miners still in the caves. Undead monstrosities started pouring out of the tunnels, slaying all who stood in their path. Worst of all, those slain were soon found walking again, their bodies twisted into instruments of violence, the life in their eyes forever replaced by deadly ferocity.

It took all the strength of Archmage Altman and the remainder of his cabal to lock the creatures away and contain the incident. Great spells were weaved to bury all of Aegis-Sven beneath the surface so that none could find it again and release the horror of the Marker. But what is now buried may someday be uncovered. Like the Marker in the tunnels beneath it, Aegis-Sven awaits discovery by the foolish and unlucky.


As undead creatures the necromorphs are not born, they are made. The Marker gives off a subtle pulse which eventually animates dead tissue into a single fleshy mass known as “Corruption”. Corruption produces spores which when released onto corpses (or when ingested by living humanoids who die before the removal of the spores) evoke a remarkably quick change in the host. The body twists and changes, bones and sinew shifting to create a deadly undead soldier.

Most of these corpses turn into the two necromorphs known as Slashers or Leapers. Some corpses, however, turn into a specialized creature known as an Infector or even deadlier creatures. The Infector is able to spread the curse by implanting spores directly into corpses. The rest of the curse’s undead servitors go out to hunt and slay living beings to create hosts for the spores. Then they drag them into piles near the Corruption, or leave them for Infectors to find.

Although such an event has not been allowed so far to pass, there is a stage in the life cycle of necromorphs known as Convergence. Theories posit that Convergence begins when the population of a hive of necromorphs expands to unheard of levels, and somehow involves a communion with the Marker.


Necromorphs are extremely aggressive creatures, going out of their way and enduring great bodily harm or even assured destruction for the chance to kill living creatures. Essentially, this presents itself as a powerful drive for procreation. Though necromorphs cannot procreate in any normal fashion they slay living creatures for the curse to infect and transform, thus growing their numbers. They accomplish this task through a variety of means that reveal an amount of primitive intelligence. They have been known to set up ambushes or wait for a target to look away before attacking. They prefer to fight in a pack, utilizing hit and run tactics and guerrilla warfare.

But other than a necromorph type called “Stalkers” they don’t seem to communicate with each other. The audible sounds they do make don’t seem to have any underlying meaning, they don’t communicate by touch or signal and apparently don’t give off any chemical cues either. As mentioned above Stalkers are the exception to this rule, seemingly communicating by chittering noises the strength of enemy numbers, their position and even their combat strength. Most necromorphs seem to communicate through some sort of innate telepathy granted them by the powers of the curse.

When not engaged in combat necromorphs exhibit a variety of behaviors. They may wander aimlessly until they find another living target, or stand in place until a target finds them. As mentioned above some will carry corpses to The Corruption or into piles for an Infector to find, whereas still others will lie upon the ground and remain silent, playing dead, as an ambush for luckless bystanders.


Necromoprhs come in a variety of different forms and types, yet there are still many things common to the creatures as a whole. Unlike some undead varieties necromorphs are not driven by a supernatural hunger; although they may chew on opponents with their distended jaws this is only as an offensive tactic, and not indicative of a need to feed.

Likewise necromorphs have no need to sleep, and even those with working respiratory systems have no need to breath, although it seems they have a preference for some gases over others (as evidenced by the Wheezer). Necromorphs have no discernable anatomy and because of their undead nature are extremely difficult to destroy. In fact, while they may be destroyed in the conventional means, the best way to defeat them is through the process of dismemberment.


As undead creatures necromorphs do not suffer from the same weaknesses that apply to the living. They do not need to breathe, sleep or eat. Their bodies are also highly resistant to attacks and some are even known to have regenerative properties. Thankfully they are known to possess one weakness, dismemberment.

Many necromorphs will die if only a few of their limbs are removed, or indeed if a specific limb is removed. While there is currently no theory as to why this is (those who have encountered the beasts had more important things on their minds than research). Attacking the same limb until it is destroyed not only ensures a quicker defeat of the necromorph but also limits their abilities with each successful dissection.

However, there are some necromorphs who have particular areas that should not be attacked: exploding sacs that damage those nearby, pustules that spew acid, or flesh that hides yet more monstrosities to name a few examples. These necromorphs become more dangerous if mishandled.

Necromorphs in Eberron

Inside the Silver Flame is an ancient evil which works towards its insidious tasks by manipulating the Voice of the Silver Flame. This taint, known as the Duality, is to blame for the Marker’s creation. The Necromorphs are one of its many projects. No one knows where the remains of Aegis-Sven lie, but rumors say the town was in the Mror Holds. Strange undead creatures are still occasionally seen in the area.

Knowledge of the Necromorphs

The following table shows the results of a bardic knowledge or Knowledge (religion) check related to necromorphs. Because of the variety of necromorphs the DCs vary by the necromorph being examined.

This table assumes that necromorphs are well known in your campaign. If you want them to be rare as they are presented here than increase the base DC by five. (IE 10 + Cr becomes 15 + CR, etc).