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The Undead of the Warhammer Fantasy Tabletop Wargame (Games Workshop ltd.), were introduced to the game in its very earliest editions. The term itself can refer either to the undivided and all-inclusive army—ranging from ghosts and vampires to skeletons and mummies—or to the separate components which make up the two: The Tomb Kings of Khemri, and the Vampire Counts. Up to and including the fifth edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle, the Undead represented the combined forces. For the sixth edition, Games Workshop divided the Undead into two separate armies to represent the chaos which Nagash created when he cast his Spell of Awakening to begin his assault on the lands of the living.
As in-game legend goes, Nagash was a priest in the courts of the land of Nehekara, and after learning Dark Magic from prisoner Dark Elves, developed his own twisted form of Magic which he termed Necromancy. This magic gave him the power to command the dead, and ultimately he cast a powerful spell from his tower, with the intent of raising all the dead of Nehekhara, thus creating a titanic army of mindless Undead. The recent dead joined with the enslaved Tomb Kings of ancient Khemri to begin their march to Nagash's tower. They would not complete their journey, for Nagash was slain through the machinations of the Skaven and their pawn, the escaped captive King Alcadizaar. The ratmen, who had grown jealous of Nagash's hoard of Warpstone, gave to Alcadizaar a sword which could cut down the mighty sorcerer: The Fellblade. While the act did not destroy Nagash, it banished him from the material world for more than 10 centuries, collapsing most of Undead horde that his sorcery had raised, and leaving the Vampires to pursue their own ends as his unwitting progeny. With Nagash's death, the Tomb Kings retained their unlife, but had regained their individual will.
Upon Nagash's first return from death, the Tomb Kings revolted against him, and swore vengeance upon his head and upon any of his followers. This is the reason that the two types of Undead exist—because of their loathing of Nagash and his evil magic the Tomb Kings have separated themselves from such atrocity. No necromancer is safe in the deserts of Araby or Nehekara, for the kings of old lie in wait to destroy all of Nagash's minions.
Out of the two offshoot armies, the Vampire Counts have access to strong heroes and much of the troops from the old Undead, making it more of a successor to the formerly unified army. While the former unified Undead and succeeding Vampire Counts are inspired by Dracula in the Medieval setting of Transylvania, the Tomb Kings are fashioned after Ancient Egypt and The Mummy series of films.
The Undead factions remained separate until The End Times when the Vampire Counts and Tomb Kings were reunited into the Undead Legion under the resurgent Nagash.
The undead can be found in many parts of the Old World, however there are areas where the dead simply cannot rest easily. Chief among these places would be Sylvania, the province of the Empire ruled by the Von Carstein Vampires. Also noteworthy would be the deserts of Araby and Nehekara, and of course Nagashizzar, the fortress of the Black Master, Nagash.
Development of the Undead in the Warhammer setting
As described earlier, the origins of the Undead can ultimately be traced back to Nagash, the first Great Necromancer. The Tomb Kings and their legions were reanimated as a result of his attempts to raise a massive army of mindless corpses, and the Vampires arose because of the Elixir of Life, which Nagash had discovered could bestow everlasting life—for a price. Queen Neferata of the ancient city of Lahmia discovered this secret within Nagash's nine books, and so became the first vampire. Her progeny became known as the Lahmian vampires.
Within the development of the Warhammer Fantasy battle game Nagash did not appear as a fully described character until 1994 with the release of the first Warhammer Armies: Undead book. Before then the undead and a number of "Undead Army" characters had been described but not with any great amount of background.
The Legions of Undead
Several staple character types are represented by the game of Warhammer, and several others besides those which are readily recognized and accepted. Among the undead, the following are included:
- Necromancers: Men who have turned to the dark arts in a desperate attempt to preserve their own flesh beyond that which is normal. Though living themselves—even if only just—they are generally the masters of the undead, for it is their magic which binds the corpses to the material plane.
- Liches: This is what becomes of a successful Necromancer. The soul is bound to the body, so the sorcerer can not die a natural death, but can still be destroyed by a determined opponent. Liches resemble walking corpses, and many - such as Nagash himself - were mere animated skeletons wrapped in their vestments.
- Wights: These are long-dead kings and warriors of renown which have been raised by powerful necromantic magic. Stronger than the typical skeleton warrior, Wights carry with them powerful weapons which are enchanted to bring death with the slightest scratch. It takes a necromancer of incredible power to bind such warriors.
- Banshees: These are the spirit-fragments of women who are heralds of woe and death. Their scream is the harbinger of death, and when people hear the banshee's wail, they tremble with fear.
- Wraiths: If a necromancer does not achieve the level of mastery required to become a lich, this is what becomes of him. Wraiths are terrifying creatures who no longer possess a physical body, but whose fear of dispersing into oblivion within the Chaos Realm binds them to the physical realm, in a hollow existence of endless torment.
- Ghouls: Though not strictly undead, or even dead at all, ghouls are mortal cannibals, once human, who have been transformed by necromancy and reduced to grave-robbing and following in the wake of battle to feed their unnatural hunger for human flesh. They operate in packs, very much like ravening wolves. They seem to have no humanity left to them whatsoever.
- Vampires: There are few beings on the Warhammer world with as much power to themselves as a vampire. Many of them are centuries old. Some are older, and they continue to grow in power as they age. Blessed with a natural affinity for Nagash's Necromancy, they are very often found leading the undead into open war.
- Skeletons and Zombies: These are the mindless corpses of fallen warriors which have been animated by a necromancer to do the master's bidding. They have no conscious thought, and they are not adept fighters. Their only advantage is that they are not alive. They do not feel pain, hunger, cold, heat, wind, rain, nothing. They simply continue on their crusade until their master decides otherwise.
Most all of the true undead cause "fear" or "terror" within the structure of the Warhammer Fantasy battle game and some can only be attacked by magical means. Another important factor within the game is that of "instability"; being for the most part creatures animated by magical means they are dependent on the controlling sorcerer (the army general in Warhammer Fantasy Battle) and the flow of magic within the game. In some editions of the game this meant that the loss of the army general effectively led to the possibility of instant destruction of most of the undead units.
- Nagash is the first and greatest of all Necromancers and is known as the father of Necromancy. His power had no equals but the Ancient Slann of Lustria. His lair is Nagashizzar, a region where the living fear to go. Nagash was once human but due to his experiments with dark magic coupled with the effects of centuries of warpstone consumption, Nagash now stands well over 15 feet tall. His body is little more than bones covered with occasional mummified flesh, he carries the great sword Mortis, and wears armour fashioned by himself out of Meteoric Iron, called the Black Armour of Nagash. Nagash while still human was originally taught the basics of the Black Art from a captured Dark Elf warlock and his companion sorceresses (Malchior, Drutheira & Ashniel) who were marooned on the coastline of ancient Nehekhara. From their knowledge Nagash combined dark magic with the ritual embalming magic of the priests of Khemri to create the blasphemous art of Necromancy. Nagash is infamous throughout the history of the Warhammer world, he caused widespread destruction and ruin wherever he and his armies marched.
- Heinrich Kemmler, the Lichemaster
- One of the oldest undead characters in WFB, having been the subject of two scenarios for the earliest Editions of WFB: Terror of The Lichmaster (a boxed set for 2nd ed in 1986 complete with card buildings) and in an edition of the Citadel Journal in a three way fight with Skaven and warrior monks of Taal as his enemies (called "The Battle for La Maisontaal"). There was also Lichemaster for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (WFRP) in 1990 and a scenario for Warmaster that returned to the theme of this battle of "La Maisontaal". More recently (White Dwarf 309) he appeared for later versions in Return of the Lichemaster.
- Kemmler was a master Necromancer, leading huge legions of the undead, with his own court of ambitious apprentices. As they grew they became rivals and one day attacked their master. Kemmler fled them, nearly breaking his body and mind in the process. For years he wandered the World's Edge Mountains on the run, until he stumbled upon the tomb of Krell, a powerful champion of Chaos in life, and later returned to Undeath by Nagash himself to become a 'Dark Lord of Nagash'. Krell was defeated after Sigmar's banishing of his master and entombed in a secret location. There Kemmler struck a pact with the Chaos gods to restore his power in return for spreading death and destruction in their name. They also granted him Krell as a gift—a powerful Wight Lord accomplice and bodyguard. Now the name of the Lichemaster once again strikes fear into the hearts of mortals, though with the shadowy hand of Nagash guiding them from behind the scenes...
- Anevent involving the two was the infamous battle at La Masiontaal Abbey where a Bretonnian monk stole a warpstone artifact from Skavenblight, home of the ratmen. Kemmler seeing the warpstone as potentially being very helpful in his own sorceries attacked the monk's home abbey at the same time as the Skaven did, seeking to take back their property. With the arrival of Bretonnian reinforcements the famous three-way battle ended with the Skaven taking their property back and Kemmler driven off by the knights of Bretonnia.
- The 'Winter of Woe', a campaign against the Wood Elves where Kemmler tried to harness the power of the ancient standing stones in their woodland home. Attacking during winter, when the gods incarnate of the Wood Elves were in hibernation, gave the Necromancer great advantage over his living foes. Thanks to the assistance the famous treeman Durthu and other native spirits of the wood, the Necromancer was driven off, but not before causing serious damage to the forest. He returned to life later in history and a zombie horde led by him besieged castle Reikland only to be this time thwarted by the Dwarf Slayer Gotrek Gurnisson and his human companion Felix Jaegar.
- In The End Times, Kemmler is finally killed in a duel with Arkhan the Black after attempting to double cross Arkhan during the latter's plan to resurrect Nagash.
- A gift from the Chaos gods to Heinrich Kemmler, Krell was once a Chaos warrior, and now he serves the Lichemaster in a terrible mockery of life. More fearsome now than he was in life, Krell serves as Kemmler's bodyguard.
- Arkhan the Black
- The first general and most powerful pupil of Nagash. He was slain covering Nagash's retreat from the city of Khemri. The beauty of Necromancy means though that he was brought back later by Nagash's foul craft. In The End Times, Nagash names Arkhan his Mortrarch of Sacrament.
- Dieter Helsnicht, Doomlord of Middenheim
- Genevieve Dieudonné - a vampire who appears in a number of novels by Jack Yeovil
- Von Carstein vampires:
- Vlad - Probably the most notable of the Von Carstein Counts, he was a very noble, but very cold man. He waited for hundreds of years for the perfect time to strike the Empire with a massive army of the Undead at his back, defeating the forces of the Empire one battle after another. When he marched on Altdorf, his victory seemed assured. The night before the battle, Empire operatives (aided by Vlad's treacherous "son," Mannfred) had managed to steal the Carstein ring, an artifact that had allowed Vlad to return from attacks that could kill even a Vampire. Vlad, in a rage, ordered his army to storm Altdorf, and took the Grand Theogonist on in single combat. For most of the battle, victory seemed assured for Vlad and his army. The battle ended in an Empire victory when the Grand Theogonist threw himself into Vlad, dragging him from the battlements of Altdorf in a deathly embrace. The two were impaled on the moat of stakes which had been placed around the city, and without Vlad's necromancy, his army crumbled. It has been speculated that Vlad von Carstein is a pseudonym for Vashanesh, the consort of the first Vampire, Queen Neferata. Vlad himself has hinted both to the veracity and the falseness of this claim.
- Isabella - The devoted wife and lover of Vlad von Carstein, she was as noble as Vlad, but also crueler. She regarded the living with a level of contempt which her sire did not. After Vlad's death, she was captured and imprisoned in a temple. She denied Vlad's death, claiming that he would return to her. After some time she was convinced that he was truly dead, and ended her own life by stabbing herself with a stake.
- Konrad - The second most powerful of Vlad's gets, Konrad greedily assumed the throne after Vlad died, as Mannfred, Vlad's firstborn, mysteriously vanished following the incident. Konrad, in contrast to his sire, was one of the worst rulers in Sylvania's history, an impressive achievement considering the general brutality of Sylvania's nobles, both living and undead. He was given to a terrible temper as well. While he ruled at Drakenhof, there was a terrible waste of blood. The devoted servants of Sylvania, whom Vlad had treated well—indeed, they felt graced to be chosen as Vlad's meal—became little more than 'cattle' to the new count. At one point in his rule, Konrad ordered his mother bricked into her own room without sustenance for the crime of giving birth to him without Konrad's permission. He eventually became so paranoid that the other vampires would destroy him that they eventually were left with no choice but to prove him right. He was killed at the battle of Grimm Moor, by a White Wolf of Middenheim whom Vlad had inducted into his inner circle.
- Mannfred - Vlad's first get. Mannfred was actually first in line to take the place of Vlad, however he mysteriously disappeared after the Count's untimely death. For many years Konrad was allowed to rule Sylvania, but as it turns out, Manfred had not been idle. He had gone on a quest to retrieve some very powerful artefacts from the lands of the Tomb Kings. When he returned, nearly more than 100 years after Vlad's death, Manfred was equipped with one of Nagash's nine books, a powerfully enchanted staff, and a cloak which rendered him nearly impossible to hit in combat and a ring that could bring him back from any death. It is this ring that allowed his sire Vlad to continue his war for so long. Additionally, he had become a very accomplished wizard, and this allowed him to do what Konrad could not—to march on the Empire without any fear of defeat. However, when Mannfred finally stood at the gates of Altdorf, as his sire had done so many years ago, yet another crushing defeat waited for him. All that was visible on the walls of the great city was the figure of Grand Theongist Kurt III. The tiny man had open in his hands Nagash's Liber Mortis, and he began reciting the spell of unbinding from its pages. Rage took Mannfred, but as his army began to crumble to dust, he was in no position to continue the assault. He was driven back, and finally cut down at Hel Fenn by the White Wolf, the once grand master of the order of the white wolf then turned undead. He took the ring and with the help of a dwarf hid himself for all time in the badlands to keep the ring from returning to evil hands.
- Constant Drachenfels, the Great Enchanter
- First appearing in the novel Drachenfels by Jack Yeovil and subsequently in Castle Drachenfels for WFRP Drachenfels is a magician who cheats death by taking over the mind and soul of one of those at the killing and subsequently uses them to kill the others who were there and taking body parts to complete the transformation but who is killed by an actor/playwright (Detlef Sierck invoking Sigmar and using a war hammer) and Genevieive.
- Queen of Lahmia and the founder of the Lahmian Sisterhood, a order of beautiful female vampires. She is also known as the Night Queen. Her agents have infiltrated many of the other factions throughout the world. She seeks to unite all the disparate undead groups under her rule and to rebuild the Temple of Blood. Khalida of the Tomb Kings is her cousin.
Liber Necris, or Book of the Dead (from Latin liber "book" and Greek nekros "dead"), is a source of background material describing the different kinds of Undead creatures and concepts of necromancy that appear in the Warhammer Fantasy setting. Written and compiled by "Marijan von Staufer", it was first published by The Black Library, an imprint of Games Workshop's publishing division BL Publishing, in June 2006.
There have been a number of books of the dead mentioned in the background material - the nine "Books of Nagash", the "Liber Mortis" of Vanhal - but none of these has ever appeared as more than passing references or small passages. Liber Necris was originally going to be written and released as Liber Mortis, from the narrative POV of Vanhal, but when D&D released a book the previous year called "Libris Mortis" the decision was made by BL Publishing to change the name of their book to Liber Necris.
- Cavatore, Alessio; Tuomas Pirinen; Space McQuirk (2001). Vampire Counts. Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-080-3.
- Cavatore, Alessio; Anothony Reynolds; Gav Thorpe (2002). Tomb Kings. Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-336-5.
- Barson, Michelle (Editor) (2004). The Undead Collectors Guide. Games Workshop. ISBN 1-84154-565-1.
- Johnson, Jervis; King, Bill (1994). The Undead. Games Workshop. ISBN 1-872372-67-8.
- Pirinen, Tuomas; Alessio Cavatore (1999). Vampire Counts. Games Workshop. ISBN 1-869893-75-1.