Friday, April 27, 2018

Fire and Incorporeal Undead

... Immediately [Frodo put on the Ring], though everything else remained as before, dim and dark, the shapes [Ring Wraiths] became terribly clear. He was able to see beneath their black wrappings. ... In their white faces burned keen and merciless eyes; under their mantles were long grey robes; upon their grey hairs were helms of silver; in their haggard hands were swords of steel. ... Desperate, he drew his own sword, and it seemed to him that it flickered red, as if it was a firebrand. Two of the figures halted. The third ... sprang forward and bore down on Frodo.

Aragorn cautions Frodo not to put on the Ring

At that moment Frodo threw himself forward on the ground, and he heard himself crying aloud: O Elbereth! Githoniel! At the same time he struck at the feet of his enemy. A shrill cry rang out in the night; and he felt a pain like a dart of poisoned ice enter his left shoulder. Even as he swooned he caught, as through a swirling mist, a glimpse of Strider leaping out with a brand of flaming wood in either hand. ... (J.R.R Tolkien, "A Knife in the Dark", The Fellowship of the Ring, pp 240-1, Ballantine Books)


I was just (on 15 April) playing in Aleksandr Revzin's iteration of Michael Curtis' Stonehell Dungeon in a certain pink-lit, pain-oriented temple-area of the dungeon, and a number of incorporeal undead appeared through the walls to attack our party. I was pretty sure they were wraiths; when they touched and level-drained to death a first level fighter-comrade, I was more sure they were wraiths. Technically I still don't know ...

But when another comrade, using a character who is a droid-body sent down by an orbiting starship, fired a ray gun at one of the wraiths (FLAILSNAILS is weird sometimes all the time), and Revzin our referee was considering whether it should affect an incorporeal undead, the same question ran through my mind. If I were referee, how would I adjudicate this?

Good thing I've done some thinking about this with my radiation rules. I'd adjudicate that a ray gun, as a kind of Coherent Radiation Emission Weapon System (CREWS for you Iain M. Banks fans), would affect such a creature, given that radiation damage does. So all well and good so far ...

But then I was thinking, what about fire? It's not coherent, but it is kind of a radiation ... or, one could say, it's also incorporeal, and so could affect bodiless things just as it does those embodied in flesh. Either way, it seems to me that open flames and fire in general should definitely affect incorporeal undead, even those "only affected by silver or magical weapons." After all, Aragorn and the hobbits are able to drive back the Ring Wraiths with torches at Weathertop! And fire is one of the main folkloric means of destroying a vampire, another kind of horrible undead ... Why not let miserable first level characters faced with lesser wraiths fight with fire??

Viggo Mortensen was good, but Bakshi's Aragorn (top image)
just seemed far and away more Aragorn to me


All of which is a longwinded way of saying that I think torches should deal 1-4 damage against even incorporeal undead, while burning oil (though it cannot "cling" to something incorporeal) can burn from the ground below to cause 1-8 damage against the same.

Which is not to say that extremely cold undead (as many tend to be ...) will not immediately put out a torch or an oil-fire, either by mere presence, or in the course of being affected by it ...

I'm sure others have come to the same conclusions, and others the opposite. But for my game, I think incorporeal undead are affected by silver or magical weapons, or fire.

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