Zem Species in A Strange New World | World Anvil


Inspired by the Arisen race from Allods
The Zem are the revived mummified followers of the Gods of the Ancient Egyptians that come from other planets. That's right, you heard that correctly. They are Egyptian mummies... from space. It just doesn't get any cooler than that, except I forgot to say that they have a penchant for bionics and cybernetic augmentation, so they aren't just mummies from space, they are bionic cyborg mummies from space.   Here's where a bunch of ideas come together to become something greater than the sum of the parts. First and second are the use of the Pyramid in the Palladium lore and the existence of Pyramids in Ancient Egypt on Earth.  
In Rifts, the Pyramid is a very important structure. Pyramids are used to focus ley line energy and can be found across the planet associated with many different cultures, like the Maya and Aztecs of central America, the lost land of Atlantis, the Ziggurats of Ur, there are even pyramids in India and China, but of course the Egyptian pyramids are the primary subject of this article.
All those nutty people who say aliens built the pyramids aren't wrong. The Egyptian Gods, for instance, are a group of very powerful aliens who call themselves the Gods of the Church of Light and Dark. While neither the Pantheons of Taut nor the Pantheon of Ra is completely good or evil, they generally claim that the Pantheon of Ra are the gods of light and good while the Pantheon of Taut are the gods of darkness and evil. I will be going into more details on these gods in their own section here: Church of Light and Dark. While most pyramids can be used to focus the ley line energy of a planet for useful purposes of a grand scale, the pyramids constructed by the Church of Light and Dark exist to power the rituals necessary to create and maintain the mummified bodies of those entombed within them, as well as other, more mundane uses. On thousands of planets across several galaxies, the Pantheons of Ra and Taut imposed themselves as gods and convinced the locals to construct pyramids. Those followers who rise to leadership positions or whom excel in certain key categories are invited to join the pantheons in the afterlife through the process of mummification. This is seen by the local cultures as a great privilege. The power collected by the pyramids sustains the souls of the mummies until such a time as the pantheons are ready to collect them.
The Story of Earth's Egyptian Pyramids (Aztec and Mayan Pyramids are stories for another time)
After a thousand years of managing affairs on Earth; Osiris, the head of the Pantheon, was killed and dismembered by his brother Set. The Pantheon split into followers of Ra and Set and fell to fighting among themselves. After this, the pantheons turned away form Earth. Without active gods providing guidance and oversight, the culture of the ancient Egyptians eventually died away and became what we know of today as the "Old Kingdom." About two hundred years later, in a period we now call the "Middle Kingdom," the Pantheon of Taut returned to collect any mummified followers that may have still been preserved before the pyramids lost all their stored power. The people were still mostly faithful, so the civilization rebounded with great effect. They were only able to maintain a presence for just over three hundred years before they abandoned the Earth again amid their galactic conflicts. It was during this absence that the Atlanteans built their own pyramids and destroyed all magic on Earth, but that is another tale. Without magic, Earth was forsaken by the gods. The ancient Egyptian civilization held together in one form or another for another thousand years but could not maintain itself against other cultures without the aid of their gods and the power of magic. After assimilation into the Roman Empire, the culture was finally lost for good and the pyramids became neglected and relegated to mere historic spectacles. Even so, it wasn't until tomb raiders and archeologists discovered the tombs in the 19th century that the life-sustaining rituals were disrupted, forever severing the souls from (almost all of) the Egyptian mummies and rendering them inert. By the time the Pantheons of Ra and Taut returned to earth after the Great Cataclysm, thousands of years had passed and the damage had been done. There was no longer a viable source of preserved followers on Earth.

The same can not be said of other planets where constant or at least recurring intervention by the Pantheons kept cultures dedicated and submissive to them. On those worlds there were no unbelieving archeologists to disturb the sarcophagi or their burial chambers. Those planets are literally covered in pyramids to which the Pantheons return time and time again for a never-ending supply of preserved followers who have proven themselves to be the best their respective planets have to offer.   As a result, millions upon millions of mummified elites have been brought back to life across the megaverse to form the undead armies of either the Pantheon of Taut or the Pantheon of Ra, whichever manages to control the resurrection process and lay claim to the souls.

Some of the above is inspired by the existing lore established by Palladium Books for the Palladium Fantasy and Rifts games.   The third inspiration comes from perhaps the coolest race I've ever encountered in any MMO ever: The Arisen race from Allods Online., who are called the Zem. see also I had to find a way of including a race of cyborg mummies into my game somehow.   If the Zem look too much like Ancient Earth's Egyptians, that is not a coincidence. The reason is because they are followers of the Pantheons of Taut and Ra, just like the ancient Egyptians of planet Earth were.   The Zem were loyal followers of the Pantheon of Ra, whom they believed were the Gods of light and good, when they were alive and were mummified. But it was the Pantheon of Taut who controlled their planet when they were revived. The Zem were reluctant to follow who they perceived to be Gods of darkness and evil and stubbornly resisted. When they openly rebelled they were destroyed; but not before some managed to get through a rift to Earth. The rift opened northwest of Chi Town and southwest of the Republic of Ishpeming in a land known as The Free Lands. That was about three years ago in Earth time. This allows a player character to play a newly-revived mummy who has only recently evacuated on Earth.

Basic Information


The Zem were once tall humanoids, averaging between 6 and 7 feet tall, usually of slight build. They were born with tails that extended nearly to the ground. The males had their tails bobbed when they came of age. While alive, their skin was a near obsidian black and their eyes amber. Because of the fading effects of their native sun, blacker skin was viewed as a sign of higher status since only the laboring class would be exposed to so much sunlight.   After mummification, however, that blackness fades and nearly all Zem are some shade of gray, sometimes with brown, green or blue tones associated with their decay.   Also, as resurrected dead, the Zem have poor to no circulation and their extremities mostly failed to regenerate properly or can continue to decay. As a result, you will see their hands, feet, tails, lips, ears and noses may be missing or decayed and replaced with bionic and cybernetic prosthetics. Amplifiers are also installed along their central nervous systems. They look like Mind over Matter M.O.M. implants along their spine.

Genetics and Reproduction

Zem do not reproduce. They are undead and have the potential to live indefinitely.

Dietary Needs and Habits

As undead, the Zem are fueled by magical energy. Ley line charging is a benefit to living on Rifts Earth and can theoretically sustain them forever. This also makes them immune to Ley Line Sickness.

Biological Cycle

Continued sustenance on the magical energy of Rifts Earth enables regeneration on par with the healing factor of living biological species. This regeneration can be accelerated 2x on ley lines and 8x at nexus points. The Zem are otherwise completely unaffected by changes in the world around them, making them immune from cold and heat and poison (extreme cold and heat may still physically affect the tissues with freezing and burning respectively.)

Additional Information

Perception and Sensory Capabilities

One of the byproducts of undeath is the loss of eyesight. The sheer lack of moisture associated with the mummification process ensures that their eyes shrivel beyond repair during the hundreds of years in their sarcophagi.   The Pantheons of Taut and Ra do not think this an issue since the first thing they do with their revived followers is augment them with bionic and cybernetic replacements and enhancements.   So every Zem and other follower of the Pantheon of Taut starts with bionic eyes capable of full spectrum nighvision and audio implants for enhanced hearing. Other extremities such as tails, fingers and toes fare poorly during the mummification process since they are farthest from the flow of energy used to sustain them for so many years. As a result, most will also have replaced their arms and legs at the elbows and knees.   The sense of smell is typically ignored so whatever olfactory capabilities they have are minimal at best. This goes for taste as well; but since they neither eat nor digest, taste is viewed by the pantheons as unnecessary.

Civilization and Culture

Naming Traditions

Following the traditions of the Pantheon of Taut, the Zem have names just like those of ancient Egyptians.

Major Organizations

Some Zem want to fight for the armies of the Pantheon of Ra against the Pantheon of Taut. Almost all of these have gone to do so and are not counted among the independant Zem we will see on Rifts Earth. The several hundred who remain cherish their independence and/or wish to keep away from that struggle between light and dark. Because revived Zem are the elite thinkers, mystics and artists of their world, they lack the practical skills necessary to establish a sustainable colony of their own. Because of this, the Zem have broken into relatively small groups or have wandered off individually to make themselves useful in established societies or out of mere curiosity.   The primary occupations Zem have taken up are the following:
  • Occultists: When they were alive, they studied dimensional energies and the arts of summoning. After death, they retain the ability to temporarily breach the dimensional fabric to summon and compel the actions of creatures from other dimensions of space and time. Similar to Shifters
  • Savants: While alive there were some Zem who focused their significant mental faculties to the study of their own minds. In doing so, they were able to unlock psionic abilities and some were able to hone their psionic powers to be weapons-grade. These few were the savants who were mummified and later revived. Similar to Mind Melters
  • Heretics: While they may have believed their pantheon to be comprised of actual Gods when they were alive and even after their revival, they hold no such beliefs now. There were many Zem who were granted the trust and license to invoke the power of the Church of Light and Dark. They did so through prayer and they were called priests. After coming to Rifts Earth, the nature of their dieties was laid bare for them to see. Despite now having no faith in the gods themselves, or perhaps because of this lack of faith, their objective study of this holy magic has enabled them to continue to use it. But as they have no faith, their use of power is not granted, it is stolen. They use the prayer invocations to tap into the power of the Pantheons and there is nothing the gods can do to stop it. This has caused them to be declared Heretics and to be killed on sight by any current follwers of either pantheon. Similar to Mystics
  • (note: there is a risk the members of the Pantheons will notice Heretics leeching their power and send agents to stop it.)
  • Sorcerers: masters of arcane magic. When alive, they were able to tap into the abundant arcane energy collected by pyramids. On Rifts Earth, the abundance of arcane energy allows them freedom to cast spells without the necessity of conducting rituals at pyramids. These spell casters served in many capacities in their previous lives, from domestic to entertainment to combat. Those chosen for mummification and resurrected by the Church of Light and Dark, however, were primarily combat-oriented. Zem sorcerers possess skillsets similar to that of a Sorcerer on Rift's Earth.
  • Inventors: These rarities were sorcerers in their previous lives whose roles were to research and develop new magic technology. They constructed the magical focii that other sorcerers used. On Rifts earth, without the entire Zem culture to support them, they find themselves curiously free to do what they will. Their skillsets are similar to Technowizards, although some may have an affinity for dimensional energies of occultists and may be more similar to Brauchers or Diabolists than to Twiz.

Beauty Ideals

In life, black skin was viewed as the most beautiful. They painted their faces in white designs to maximize the contrast of their skin to make it seem even darker. After having been mummified and revived their skin has lost much of its black lustre. In addition, their once-prized beauty is further marred by the loss of their eyes, ears, noses and sometimes even their lips. As one can imagine, they prefer to cover their imperfect faces with full white masks with idealized features and black markings meant to reflect the face painting they once had in their mortal forms.   Some choose to expose their lower jaws for effect, and a semblance of an ugly-beauty fetish has arisen around the practice.   Females also make it a priority to ensure they have a tail worthy of display as they did in life when they would wrap it in silken ribbons adorned with jewels. Almost all arisen Zem females will have lost their natural tails, however, so they will do whatever it takes to obtain a cybernetic tail and will often embed jewelry, motor servos or other stylistic features into them.   Like their tails, they also like decorating their prosthetic limbs with moving parts, RGB lighting and other stylistic design choices that revel in their artificial nature rather than simulating the appearance of their natural flesh.

Gender Ideals

There is no difference between male and female career choices since the Zem were all once masters of the mental arts, any physical differences between the sexes were inconsequential to meet those ends. This is even more so now that forces other than mere biology provide their strength and movement.

Relationship Ideals

Because of their immortal undead nature, Zem can feel a bit disconnected from the world on a personal and social level. They know they will forever be treated differently and not be accepted, and they also know that the people in their lives will come and go like cinders from a fire. As a result, they act aloof and standoffish, sometimes even acting insultingly or offensively when people attempt to get closer to them. A psychologist would say this is a self defense mechanism to keep from getting hurt. But at the same time, if they are offered true friendship by someone willing to suffer through these measures to prove it, they will take to it like someone drowning would take to a life ring. In such cases, Zem can be a bit overprotective of their friendships. This can manifest in many different ways. For example, they can be smothering, they can be constantly seeking approval, they can be obsessive, they can become stalkers, or they can fall madly in love. But however they manifest it, they will probably be the most loyal friends you could ever have. Tsundere.

Average Technological Level

When they were living under the oversight of The Church of Light and Dark there was very little impetus for innovation or technological advancement. They developed slowly in the technological front. In the Mystical and arcane arts, however, they are quite advanced. The Zem that were mummified and revived and who made it to Rifts Earth were the pinnacle of all the Zem in these disciplines. In fact, Zem are the only known species to have developed something akin to Technowizardry anywhere other than Rifts Earth or Hades.

Major Language Groups and Dialects

Zem speak Mitu Ra, the language taught to them by their Gods. Mitu ra is so surprisingly similar to ancient Egyptian that one can understand the other in both written and spoken form. (Note: the Lyn Srial also speak Mitu ra, but each is currently unaware of the other's presence on Rifts Earth)   A majority of the Zem in North America can communicate passably in American.

Common Dress Code

Males enjoy the appearance of intimidation and arcane power, often wearing full-length kilts or scapulas to accentuate their slim silhouette and tall height, paired with wide shoulders for a triangular look invoking the look of an impressive upwelling of power.   Females prefer to look aloof and generally like showing off their skin color when they can. They too will wear kilts and scapulas.

Culture and Cultural Heritage

Similar to what we know about the ancient Egyptians of Earth. Since the only Zem who qualified for mummification were the intellectual elite, the Wa'baw (pronounced wa' bau), of their original race, there are no manual laborers, merchants or soldiers in their ranks (or are there?). So the surviving Zem have a view of their culture that is a bit rosy-colored nostalgia. They will fondly recall the way they could debate intellectual concepts in the shade while being served exotic teas and beer. Some Zem may try to recreate their home on Earth, and use their arcane or mental powers to make it happen for good or ill.

Common Customs, Traditions and Rituals

When two Zem greet each other for the first time or after a period of absence, they will usually embrace. Since their faces are covered in expressionless masks, and their arms are mostly cybernetic replacements, the only way they can actually make a physical connection with each other is to perform a polite embrace of sorts. They will lean into each other placing their shoulders and collarbones in contact with one another as they move their faces close enough to speak softly and intimately first in one ear and then the other. It is similar to a European cheek kiss, but Zem's bodies are closer and it lasts a bit longer.

Common Taboos

Do NOT remove the mask from a Zem if you want to see tomorrow.


Like all followers of the Pantheon of Ra, the Zem built and maintained pyramids on their homeworld. And like all the other worshippers of the Pantheon, only the most worthy elite were chosen for mummification to join the Gods in the afterlife.   But unlike the followers of other worlds who were selected based upon their combat prowess or skill as builders or artificerss, the culture of the Zem praised mental acuity over all other traits. Scholarly and occult pursuits were the highest calling and the most talented in these fields were put in positions of respect and power. Thus, the Zem who were mummified and later revived by the Pantheon of Taut were uniquely independent and strong of mind. Their affinity in the mental and arcane arts naturally placed them in positions of privilege, power, and supervision in the armies of Taut over races from other planets whose cultures stressed strength, brutality, beauty or force of arms.   In an act of defiance, Zem coordinated and led a rebellion from the Panthen in the hopes of joining with Ra. They were utterly destroyed and the survivors managed to escape through a rift to Rifts Earth about three years ago. Over a hundred Zem managed to make it to Earth through the Rift where they have discovered the amplifying effect of the Magic environment. Exactly how many survived is unknown.   Because the Pantheon of Taut is also now present on Rifts Earth, the Zem have had to keep a low profile or risk further hunting.

Interspecies Relations and Assumptions

Zem have a shoot-on-sight relationship with members of the Pantheon of Taut and avoid interactions with the Pantheon of Ra for fear of forced conscription.   Since they are technically undead, they have a tendency to be misunderstood and persecuted by others who are quick to judge. They have a hard time making good first impressions.   The Circle of Life and Armillaria have an interesting relationship with Zem. One would think that Zem would be heretical to Armillaria's teachings that all who die must be decomposed and enter the unity of all life before becoming part of something even greater. However, since they originally lived and died on another world, not Earth, there was no unity for them to join. Furthermore, Armillaria views their current existence as the blessing brought about by that very death and that their presence on this planet allows them to join the great whole when they die on this world. She is actually very happy to have been given the opportunity to claim them when they die here on Earth. Because of this, they are the only undead on the planet who are not destroyed on sight by the Circle of Life and the Death Dealers.

The Zem are the revived mummies of a people from a planet who worshipped the Pantheon of Light and Dark. After they were reanimated they rebelled against their masters, and the Zem we see are the only survivors of that rebellion.


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