Let us, for a moment, put aside the question of whether or not a particular archmage can raise the dead, en masse, from the grave. Let’s put aside the question of whether or not the Divinities of the Boneyard would approve of such an endeavor. Let’s put aside what it might do to the spellcaster (have we mentioned, of late, that all magic has a cost, and deciding to change that-which-is-dead into that-which-emulates-life is not a small alteration of reality?) Let’s also, if we might, put aside the plethora of sources which find it convenient to suggest that one might, for example, not only raise an army of one’s own dead, but that one might also raise the dead of those who oppose you, and thus, whenever one fights this force, the net result will always be that the Necromancer’s legions grow larger, which, in theory, suggests that a Necromancer would be undefeatable?)
(And, in contrast, might we put aside the human conveniences of suggesting that a certain kind of blow will stop a deathless corpse? Why in the world should a thing whose brain is no longer in sensory or bioelectrical contact with the rest of the body care if one removes its head? And yes: magic is arbitrary, but why would, say, weapons made out of silver stop the animated thing? Who writes these rules, anyway? Look: if you find yourself surrounded by zombies, don’t aim for a headshot; aim for a story with better metaphysics.)
Let’s simply cast all these considerations to the winds (the West Wind; the North Wind is still angry at us for reasons best left unmentioned at this time), and ask ourselves: why doesn’t the Necromancer raise up an army of the undead to slaughter the living?
We run straight into another question: why, in the name of the eighteen devils of Pandemonium would she?
To destroy all life? Perhaps. Although most beings who want to destroy all thinking creatures want to do so because so many thinking creatures are idiots, and that problem’s not going to get any better if you replace the thoughtless with those literally incapable of thinking.
To rule the world? This seems to be the explanation offered to us most often; but what a petty, small-minded, idiotic being you’d have to be, to have sufficient knowledge to empty the charnel-houses, and not think through the end result of your actions.
That is, what exactly are the satisfactions of ruling the world? Acclaim? Can’t really get that from the dead. Adoration? You could cause the dead to kneel before you, probably; you can probably puppet them around pretty well. But what a weird pleasure it would be, to feel a mimicry of adoration from the unliving.
A master Magus is capable of plumbing some of the most arcane Secrets of the Universe. (And many of them could really use a good plumbing; they’re so clogged up with the muck of misplaced Belief that one can barely get at them, and once one does, they’re clogged up something fierce.) If you can move things about and experiment with the building blocks of Creation, it seems strange to spend that much time mucking about in the physical world if you’re not going to take advantage of anything that the material world actually does well.
It’s not that the higher realms of Magic are devoid of either intellect or surprises, per se; but they are intellects towards which humans, even those with unearthly knowledge, bear little relation; the nanite hiveminds which generate Creation on an atomic level, for example, have much more in common with the hyperintelligent killer ant-bees from that dimension right next door, a fact which will be of no comfort to you when the latter come by for a visit.
If you’re really going to raise an army of those who cannot think, and lead them to world conquest, what do you have left? Objects. Just objects you can move around as you so desire.
And if, in turn, that sounds like some form of ultimate power to you, consider this scenario:
A child drags his stuffed animals out to sit around a table, and he places an empty teapot on the table. He then invents conversations for them to have, over imaginary cups of tea.
There’s nothing wrong with this in a child; it might indicate loneliness, perhaps, but it might not; it definitely indicates creativity and an active imagination.
But a master sorcerer who uses unholy powers to snuff out all thinking resistance, then moves everything about to suit her whims? It’s like taking real friends and making them into stuffed animals, taking real tea and substituting for it a purely imaginary liquid. The child, at least, is taking things which do not have inherent consciousness, and making a world in which they interact as if they were intelligent. The Necromancer is taking a world of thinking beings, and substituting for it a tea-party of imaginary friends.
It’s hard to create something out of nothing. It is easy, and unspeakably weak, to take a world of Something, and make Nothing out of it, just so you can play around with a world of objects that can never hurt or love or challenge you.
My name is Jeff Mach (“Dark Lord” is optional) and I build communities, put on events, and make stories come into being. I also tweet a lot over @darklordjournal.