Black Necromancy and Alignment in Golarion


Lost Omens Campaign Setting General Discussion

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So a thread in the PFS forum got me thinking a bit about if my knowledge of necromancy in Golarion is correct, so I'm posing my view here and asking people to riddle it full of holes to correct any misunderstandings on my part.

My general view on necromancy in Pathfinder is that there is two "paths" - White Necromancy, as practiced by followers of Pharasma, which may wield the power of death but does not animate undead, and Black Necromancy, which goes a step farther and actually animates undead minions. White Necromancy is generally accepted, if a bit squicky, and there are mage schools that openly teach it. Black Necromancy is generally reviled outside of certain environments (Geb, etc) and practitioners are not well received.

White Necromancy is not tied to any particular alignment - there may be a trend away from good since you're manipulating negative energy, but negative energy is not in and of itself evil and can be used to pragmatic ends.

Black Necromancy is entirely evil, and any practitioner is by definition evil. The process of animating undead requires binding a (generally unwilling) soul to a body. While it is thus bound, the creature in question cannot be resurrected, even by high level magic, because the soul is not accessible to the resurrection magic. The animation magic then twists and torments the soul until it is forced to act in an evil manner. This is no better than someone who tortures a living creature, and is in many ways worse, since at least the living creature has the possibility of release to look forward to. It doesn't matter if you're animating undead to compel them to work a soup kitchen or run an orphanage - the nature of undead makes the act of their creation evil.

So are these definitions sound, or is there something I'm missing? The reason I ask is that Black Necromancy is allowed in PFS, and PFS does not allow evil characters. The nature of necromancy as I understand it is completely at odds with how I view PFS, and I'm trying to sort out if I have how necromancy works wrong, or if it's just a bit of inconsistency on the part of the campaign.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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There isn't really a thing called "black necromancy" on Golarion, nor is there really a division of necromancy into two official "paths." That's largely something from D&D and gaming fandom that we haven't run with in Golarion.

The closest we get to doing something even remotely similar to this with the rules would be the two focused necromancy schools we present in the Advanced Player's Guide; Life and Undeath, but not that these schools do not in and of themselves require alignment adherence (even though the undeath one indirectly will since it's focusing on undead).

I suspect that the three biggest things in-world to an organized group of evil necromancers would be the Whispering Way, the nation of Geb, and the cult of Urgathoa. The biggest thing to a "good guy necromancy" organization would be, I suppose, the church of Sarenrae, which is the religion most focused on healing.

Dark Archive

Hi James!

Thanks for taking the time to answer my question. Yeah, the white/black thing was more a way to categorize the different varieties of necromancers rather than an in-game school. I do have one further question, if you don't mind. I've always had the impression that the act of animating undead was not just evil, but extremely (almost irredeemably) evil - the sort of thing even a neutral character wouldn't consider outside the most dire situation, and that someone who does it regularly or as a standard practice by definition must be of an Evil alignment. Is this true for Golarion?

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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Akari Sayuri "Tiger Lily" wrote:

Hi James!

Thanks for taking the time to answer my question. Yeah, the white/black thing was more a way to categorize the different varieties of necromancers rather than an in-game school. I do have one further question, if you don't mind. I've always had the impression that the act of animating undead was not just evil, but extremely (almost irredeemably) evil - the sort of thing even a neutral character wouldn't consider outside the most dire situation, and that someone who does it regularly or as a standard practice by definition must be of an Evil alignment. Is this true for Golarion?

It's evil enough that it has the "Evil" tag on the spell, which makes it more evil to cast than every other non-evil tagged spell in the game, which is most of them. It's not something that a non-evil character should do at all as a result. It's 100% true for Golarion.


Isn't Healing a Conjuration effect within the rules?

I know Healing was a Necromancy effect in older editions, but that changed in 3.0.

I always felt that change was a mistake. Conjuration has enough going for it without taking away half of another school's toys.

James, is there an FPS or Golarion specific rule that changes Healing back to Necromancy? (because that would be awesome)

Paizo Employee Creative Director

Doomed Hero wrote:

Isn't Healing a Conjuration effect within the rules?

I know Healing was a Necromancy effect in older editions, but that changed in 3.0.

I always felt that change was a mistake. Conjuration has enough going for it without taking away half of another school's toys.

James, is there an FPS or Golarion specific rule that changes Healing back to Necromancy? (because that would be awesome)

Healing is indeed conjuration in the rules... which is another reason a classic role "white necromancer" doesn't really work in Pathfinder.

I'm talking about a "white necromancy" type group, which in games other than Pathfinder has indeed been more about healing than causing death. There is no such thing as "healing necromancy" in the game any more than there is a "white necromancy" category, in any event.

For what it's worth, though, I agree that switching healing out of necromancy and into conjuration was an error—it was one we discussed fixing in Pathfinder, but as with many other issues we decided to leave it as-is for backwards compatibility.


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I would love to see a book dedicated to completely removing legacy errors. I don't know anyone who still uses 3.5 content in their Pathfinder games. I don't think anyone would miss backwards comparability if a book came out with the option of getting rid of it in favor of more balanced or thematic options.


Doomed Hero wrote:
I would love to see a book dedicated to completely removing legacy errors. I don't know anyone who still uses 3.5 content in their Pathfinder games. I don't think anyone would miss backwards comparability if a book came out with the option of getting rid of it in favor of more balanced or thematic options.

this!

when i first got into PF the backward compatibility was great, but PF has enough splat of its own now.

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