Joint Orders Of Necromancers Benevolent

So Arnold K. posted a fascinating thing recently. Since the post had to do with necromancy and the undead, it reminded me of this old idea I had collecting dust in the back of my brain for years. So here it is.

Necromancy in general is not viewed in positive light, mostly because tampering with the dead is taboo and because the non-necromancer-created undead (such as vampires and restless spirits) are dangerous and bothersome enough. However, most societies learn to accept and even welcome the Joint Orders of Necromancers Benevolent. The Orders use study, research and practice of necromancy to benefit society and are often on the front lines of the efforts to remove malignant undead presence. While some aspects of their activity are disturbing, their goals are good and they are always willing to negotiate their means with the local authorities.
That said, the members of the Joint Orders are not necessarily pleasant to be around. While they're trying to work for the living and with them, they're still necromancers and dealing so much with death rubs off on a person.

There are three Orders in the organization, united through several common practices:
  • All members donate their bodies upon death for the use of organization. These are reanimated to perform the kinds of work that the living members prefer not to deal with.
  • Spirits can also be volunteered for some duration of service, especially for instruction of newer generations.
  • While the Orders accept members regardless of race, sex or creed, members are expected not marry or have children. They are also expected to stay within the Orders' quarters rather than in private lodgings or inns if there is an option.
  • Members are allowed to transfer allegiances between Orders.
  • All members give a magically reinforced oath not to knowingly cause needless harm to the living or to raise the dead in any form except within clearly defined circumstance (the circumstance is Order-specific).
  • Lichhood is strictly forbidden.



A Bone necromancer filling out a form. (Painting by Francisco de Zurbarán)

The Order of the Bone is the most involved with local authorities and communities. They wear white robes and are most often providers of services, administrators and leaders of Necromancers Benevolent conclaves. The services they provide usually consist of:
  • Healing - working with the dead yields a lot of medical insights and healing magic is apparently closely related to necromancy. They attempt to provide access to healing to those who cannot normally afford it, although their healers do tend to give out pamphlets that encourage donating your body to the Orders after death.
  • Workforce bolstering - a single Bone necromancer with a group of zombie laborers can significantly speed up various projects, provided they work at other times than the rest of the workers.
  • Preparing bodies of the dead so that they can not be raised by rogues necromancers.
  • Legal assistance - nothing helps solve a murder case like summoning the spirit of the victim.



An young Ash initiate consults a librarian spirit (housed within a skull). (Painting by Anthony van Dyck)
The Order of the Ash is the one specializing in research, archiving and training new members of all the Orders. They are distinguished by their grey robes - the shade of grey usually lighter the longer the person has been a member. At least one third of their number have formerly been active in the other two Orders, but have retired from active duty therein and now function as instructors to the initiates.

Ash necromancers maintain extensive libraries, but usually outside of acquisitions and management there are few living librarians - books are mostly looked up by spirits and shades and the handling is left to skeletons. While the libraries are open to outsiders, many find the undead "staff" to be too disturbing to visit often.



Non-necromancer member of the Order of Blood in his battle gear. (Painting by Anthony van Dyck)
The Order of the Blood is the only one which has non-necromancer members (although even they have at least theoretical basics of necromancy). They are dedicated to exterminating undead infestations and dealing with rogue necromancers. They do not have distinctive garb for practical reasons, but when working in the open they often wear red sashes visibly somewhere on their person.

They are often aided in their work by spirits of the dead, often bound to their battle gear. Of all the Orders, Blood are most likely to request their spirits be bound after death - usually to combat gear of a new generation. While they are often released after two or three lifetimes, there are some that have been transferred from item to item over many centuries.


Room for interpretation

I like this organization because it can be interpreted so differently depending on context. Are they what they seem on the face of it - a group of people utilizing an unusual ability for the good of society and honestly believe what they declare? Or maybe they're just pragmatic and realize it's the only way to survive persecution they'd face otherwise? Or a mix of both? They could, perhaps, also be a good PR front for an evil cult that is secretly working on a huge necromantic project - like resurrecting a dead god bound to their will. Might be something else entirely. There's also room for some interesting conflicts with groups opposed to necromancy on principle, or groups who wish to use necromancy differently.

Also they give me an excuse to use 17th century paintings, which is one of the better reasons ever.