The Dead from the Abhorsen Trilogy

I’ve been reading the Abhorsen Trilogy (in a hardcover book with a gorgeous cover) by Garth Nix lately and it’s inspired me to try to stat out some of the undead and creatures presented in the books. Perhaps it was just a bit of serendipity, but this is a book I normally wouldn’t have encountered or read. When I was visiting my mother, she gave me this book that she’d bought at a garage sale. Normally, I’m very picky about the books I own and the Abhorsen Trilogy was obviously a Young-Adult novel and geared towards women, so while the promise of necromancy intrigued me, I didn’t expect much. I was pleasantly surprised.

Sabriel presents a world where a ‘modern’ WW1-era technology nation meets fantasy magic realm and describes how the two blend together at the border. Sabriel is the daughter of the Abhorsen, a blend of Lawful (called the Charter) mage / cleric and Chaos (called Free Magic) sorcerer / necromancer who is charged with putting the Dead to rest.

I really enjoyed the idea of the River of Death, a metaphysical plane where dead souls float along from Life through a series of nine Gates to their final resting place, but is thick with the Dead and Necromancers. These Free-Magic sorcerers and the Abhorsen wield seven enchanted bells that have influence over the spirits of the living and the Dead, but also seem to be semi-sentient and have personalities. Preventing a bell’s effect from backfiring if it’s allowed to ring on its own is half the skill of a Necromancer.

All in all, I loved the lore that the author skillfully presents to the reader without an exposition dump and a straight-forward adventure story that doesn’t hold back from descriptions of hideous Necromancy and human sacrifice. It’s one of the most original and detailed descriptions of Necromancy  and one that’s inspired my own setting of Ark.

Over the next week or so, I’ll post my take on the stats of some the creatures and undead. Below are the two most common undead creatures.

Dead Hand and Shadow Hand

Dead Hands are essentially zombies, but aren’t animated just by black magic, but are possessed by an undead spirit who uses their flesh has a shield. While they are often subjugated by a Necromancer (who may be residing somewhere on the River of Death) to be his “hand” in the material world, they can rise spontaneously in areas where the veil between Life and Death is weakened and thin; like a battleground.

Dead Hand

Undead, NE, 30’, HD 3, AC 7, 1 slam, 1d6 or by weapon, F3, Mo 11, xp 30

Resilient Spirit: When their physical body is destroyed, their malevolent spirit crawls free and attacks the living as a Shadow Hand. The risen Shadow Hand will have the same number of hit points as the Dead Hand had at its maximum. For uncontrolled Hands, this transformation occurs 1d4 rounds after the destruction of their body; for those controlled by a Necromancer, he can spend a standard action ordering the Shadow Hands to rise.

Keep in mind that Hands that have been Turned or Destroyed, remain Turned or Destroyed after (or since) their body is destroyed. Also, note damage taken from magical weapons (not magical energy damage, which is absorbed by the physical body) and subtract that from the total hit points of the Shadow Hand. A risen Shadow Hand will have at least 1 hp. The remains of a Dead Hand that has been Blessed or doused in Holy Water will not rise as a Shadow Hand until the Bless expires or after 24 hrs, respectively.

Undead traits: Beyond the usual traits granted the undead, this type of undead cannot cross (above or below) deep or fast-moving water. An uncontrolled Dead Hand will not attempt a crossing under most circumstances, but if it’s pushed to do so by a Necromancer, it must make a Save vs Death or be swept away into the River of Death, body and spirit. Very shallow and/or very still water may grant a bonus to this Save and vice versa (crossing a large waterfall would be a -4 penalty on a Save made every round, a sluggish brook would be a +4 bonus).

“The soft, rotten corpse, shambles ahead and reaches for you with putrid hands. In the torchlight, you can see it better. Its gender has been obscured by decay and, though it’s missing half its face, nearly all of its left arm and all of its right leg, the missing parts are filled in by an inky, ephemeral substance blacker than shadow. Cold blue points of awareness look at you with hunger; one from behind a milky eye and the other from misshapen darkness.”

A Shadow Hand leaving his ruined shell

Shadow Hand

Undead, NE, 40’, HD 3, AC 5, 1 touch, 1d6 + 1 DEX dmg, F3, Mo 11, xp 90

Necrotic Touch: The touch of a Shadow Hand causes flesh to freeze and necrotize with frostbite. Those who suffer their touch find themselves moving slower and with less grace as their spirit drains away. Dexterity damage heals natural in two hours (12 Turns).

Freed from the Husk: Lacking a conventional physical body, Shadow Hands are immune to non-magical weapons. They only take damage from magical sources. They are NOT incorporeal in the sense that they can pass through physical barriers; they must retain their size and shape. Once freed from sluggish meat, the intelligence of a Shadow Hand is also greater than a Dead Hand; an uncontrolled and weakened Shadow Hand will retreat from combat in order to heal.

Night Affinity: Shadow Hands, once free from a physical form, naturally absorb shadow-stuff from the darkness around them. They regenerate at 1 hp / round under two conditions: in complete darkness or once night has fallen (generally, between astronomical dusk and dawn).

Undead traits: Beyond the usual traits granted the undead, this type of undead cannot cross (above or below) deep or fast-moving water.

“Unable to hold itself up, the rotted meat of the corpse collapses to the ground in several wet pieces. Black entrails and sluggish ichor ooze into the grass. You turn to the engage the next target, but movement in the corner of your eye brings you back to the fallen zombie. The rising shadow shucks the brown and grey flesh like a loose-fitting garment and wades through the pool of human decay towards you. Taller and thinner than the body it once inhabited, the shadow of darkest night appears only vaguely human. The air around it turns to a deathly frost as it moves and those same hungry eyes see through to your vulnerable spirit.”

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