A Merfolk Necromancer for DnD 5e

With this post I’d like to introduce you to Kubbatha, the Merfolk Wizard I will be playing in my next D&D 5e game.

This character starts at level 3 because that’s where most of our party is in-game. Actually, most players are level 4, but I’m giving myself a level penalty as I am constantly switching characters.

Here are the character sheets:

THE INSPIRATION

As with my other posts about RPG characters, I like to talk mostly about my inspiration for this character.

I recently got back into MtG Commander and while perusing the very limited pool of singles cards for sale here in Ho Chi Minh city, I stumbled upon this card, which I had never seen before:

As I imagined casting it in a Skeletor voice (Skeletoniiiiiize), it instantly became my new favorite MtG card, dethroning the long-standing Drudge Skeleton (more specifically, the 5th edition version, which I got decades ago when I bought my first cards).

I mean look at this art! The name! The flavor text! It’s perfect!

A bit later in the week, I decided to make a meme of myself and buy all the Skeletonize cards available to me.

I found one more a bit later…

I then started to wonder how I could actually make this spell happen in a Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder game. It seemed simple enough, just kill a creature with fire and then raise it from the dead!

It was easy to do so in Pathfinder 2e. A level 1 Wizard already has access to the right spells. However, in D&D 5e a Wizard or Cleric can only start to raise the dead – albeit for a longer duration – at level 5… and our current campaign our characters are all level 3 and 4! I’m not that patient! I need to cremate and resuscitate asap!

CREMATE AND RESUSCITATE

Someone in our play group suggested simply importing the Pathfinder 2e spell to 5e, which I was considering until I spotted the Archeologist in the D&D 5e Backgrounds list, which starts with a shovel.

Reading that reminded of an MtG card of which the art I really appreciate:

Dem runes

I’ve always loved that the shovel seems to actually be raising the dead, rather than the individual holding the tool, and so I asked our very open-minded DM if, as a starting equipment, I could have a magical shovel which would act like a staff that could let me cast the Animate Dead spell, once a day. He said yes and I called it the Shovel of Zargoth Fen.

THE ROLLING

I then looked at D&D races. Who could this necromancer be? When I first rolled this toon in Pathfinder 2e (using the great Pathbuilder app) I created him as a Ratfolk, but for D&D I found myself gravitating towards a High Elf (purely for that Intelligence bonus). As I was looking at exotic races, I noticed that Merfolk had been added to the D&D universe through a Planeshift book (a free, official PDF which you can find here).

I love Merfolk!

Using Scryfall dot com, I decided to look at Merfolk Wizards and Ixalan Merfolk to find inspiration from their appearance. I was already a big fan of the Kumena aesthetics and I think it shows in my character portrait, shown at the start of this now way-too-long post.

So cool. So so cool.

This search also led me to this beautiful creature:

Get it? Creature.

I think her seashell armor is really neat, as well as the fact that the word “coral” is in the card’s name. It led me to take a look at the list of our world’s coral reef names for inspiration in naming this new character. I ended up going with Tubbataha, a reef in the Philippines, which is the most Ixalan-looking place I have ever visited. I changed the T to a K because I didn’t want my Merfolk to suffer through “Tuba” jokes. My previous Elf character had a 7-syllable name which mostly annoyed the other players so I then shortened the necromancer’s name to Kubbatha.

I spotted another neat Merfolk card during my sift, which helped me think a bit more about the character concept of a Necromancer Incinerator that lives below the sea…

Too evil though. Evil aunt BBEG?

FLESHING OUT THE CONCEPT

After all my Wizard’s spells were picked and character sheet boxes were filled out, I started to ponder about the Merfolk’s origin. Why would he be on land? How could a necromancer NOT be evil? When could a water-based race learn fire spells?

THE ORIGIN STORY

Khubbata was a blue Merfolk who lived with his tribe below tropical waters, which, at the surface were popular trade routes and the prowling territories of numerous pirate ships. Attacked, boarded, raided and sunken ships would often spill their exotic contents and treasures down to the seabed.

These rains of loot always brought great joy to Khubbata, for he found a great interest in the artifacts of the world above.

These relics and gold coins of unknown civilizations sowed the seed of curiosity in this young merfolk, who as he grew older, started to explore the ocean floors more and more. Guided by an erudite aquatic elf who visited his undersea village from time to time, the apprentice archeologist soon became quite versed in unearthing long-forgotten goods.

One faithful day while on a solo expedition, Khubbata stumbled upon inconceivably old ruins. A spooky, yet exciting feeling took hold of him as he swam deeper and deeper into the outlandish temple. Within its chambers, he eventually found a tome of black leather – an enduring spellbook – and a strange shovel, faintly glowing purple. Both were barely damaged by the passage of time in these salty waters. The curious merfolk took them back to his elvish friend, who managed to decipher the tome and teach him the magic locked within.

For a long time, Khubbata kept his discovery secret. His tribe never particularly liked his interest in all things from the surface world. One night however, as the vagabond merfolk was wandering near the coast, he stumbled upon a shipwreck which seemed very recent. At the sight of this misery he felt sad and sorry, for he had learned that most items and artifacts he found on seabed were there because of the folly of the surface people and their love for violence and danger.

His curiosity took him closer to the ship’s hull. The surroundings were littered with sunken crates.

The body of a drowned woman, trapped under heavy goods, grabbed his attention. As he approached her, an overbearing feeling of sadness washed over him and he decided to use his magic to try and bring back this person to life, so that she could go back to her family. He grabbed the magical shovel, which he always carried strapped to his back, and hit the corpse with it.

The corpse opened its eyes and started blankly. It didn’t move. Khubbata waited patiently, feeling uneasy, gently swung by the ocean currents.

Minutes passed.

Still, the animated dead sat on the ocean floor, fish picking at its decomposing flesh.

“Go on, get free and go back home!” thought Khubbata impatiently. As soon as this thought was formulated, the corpse immediately attempted to sit up. It tore its trapped leg off its body and started swimming up to the surface slowly, methodically.

Kubbatha decided to follow it to the surface.

Such is the tale of how our Merfolk Necromancer first left his home waters and started exploring the coastland. He quickly found that while surface people were open to his different appearance, they were not welcoming towards his magical gifts, judging them evil.

He would eventually come into contact with a ship of pirate orcs, who informed him that in orc culture, necromancy is not considered evil. They in fact operated their galleon (and saved on salaries) with the help of a “skeleton crew”. Pun intended. Kubbatha stayed with them an extended period of time, learning their ways and language and picking up the bad habits of smoking exotic (looted) cigars.

It is a well-known fact that you can’t smoke under water, and so after parting with the pirates, Kubbatha started spending more and more time on land. Believing strongly that the dead should be doing the mundane work that was too dangerous for the living, he trekked from place to place and territory to territory, offering his services of raising servants to the local populace who would need an expandable employee for a single, dangerous task like exploring an old mine, rescuing a lost child, or retrieving lost goods at the bottom of waters (which he could do himself).

They didn’t really appreciate his… resourcefulness.

While travelling under the sun, a zombie servant carrying his luggage, our practical spellslinger noticed that the smell was quite unpleasant, and he realized that having a decomposing corpse shamble around in populated areas was quite unsanitary.

And that is why he decided to start incinerating corpses before bringing them back.

cremate and resuscitate!

Whew! If you’re still here, thanks for reading Khubbata’s origin story! I’m looking forward to playing him next week, under the guidance of my DM Marc.

Here’s a bit more stuff that you might find interesting:

Note “Stran”, the first iteration of this necromancer. A red Ratfolk scavenger who lives in sewers and raises the corpses he occasionally finds to help him sift through garbage. Why did he leave the sewers? Well, to find better clothes!

Hope you enjoyed,

Étienne

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