"As good to me dead as you are alive" isn't the exaggeration it used to be.
The dead have been made to walk once more through Necromancy
. In the century or so since its true potential was unlocked, the number of undead around the world have exploded and many guess they outnumber the living by at least two to one - possibly more.
Anatomy of a Corpse
Undead are corpses of humans and animals, reanimated by electricity-powered necromancy. Their bodies have ceased to function and only move by the magic that first made it rise. They don't require any food despite the ever-popular depiction of them as brain-eating ghouls, they never require rest, air or any other variable that a living human require to continue their function. A well-preserved undead can last as a human life-time, though the work most of them are made to do mean they wear out much sooner than that.
by 13th Gate Escape Room
Undead do rot, though vital parts for their function such as tendons and muscle are always the last to go. They smell accordingly and when placed in mixed company, they're either embalmed or perfumed to reduce the stench. In factories where only the poor work or in battlefield conditions, such luxuries are usually not present, however.
The undead are powered by magic and formed by the Necromancers intent and skill. A skilled Nekrobiotek can formulate a more precise and detailed intent for their reanimation spell, resulting in undead who are more nimble, stronger and more able than those raised by an amateur. While the undead will never be as quick or as adaptable as a living, they are tireless and incredibly difficult to kill. Even decapitation is not always sure to destroy them and most undead are not so much slain as they are rendered incapable of further movement.
The Working Dead
A stiff can go anywhere and do anything. They don't complain, they don't get sick, they don't piss off for a coffee or smoke every five minutes. They do what I tell 'em and I've never seen a stiff try to form a union.
If it weren't for the smell, I couldn't think of a better worker.
Undead follow the orders of the Necromancer or anyone they have marked as having authority over them. Such marks usually take the form of ownership chits, with matching symbols either branded onto the undead or marking their death-mask. Depending on the skill of the Nekrobiotek who raised the body and the intent with which they did so, the undead respond differently. An undead raised with the intent to be a worker will make for a clumsy fighter, while those raised with greater care are capable of understanding more complex order.
Still, the undead have no mind of their own. They excel at manual labor and dangerous work, but have little ability outside of this. With their ability to go to places that would be fatal for the living and toil without rest or complaint no matter the conditions, the undead have come to form a bulk of the workforce.
A bit old, but well-kept. I'd be willing to take that stiff of you- sorry? Your mother? Well, I'm sorry for your loss sir, but think about how you can help your family through this terrible time with this money.
Even with preservation and embalming, the undead eventually wear out. Hard physical labor in particular tend to grind the undead out and render them useless sooner rather than later. As such, there is a thriving market for fresh bodies and dismembered limbs. Repairmen who specialize in sewing new arms and legs to damaged undead can greatly enhance the time the undead remains useful while corpse-mongers barter with grieving families and battle-field scavengers alike.
For those with money and power, death isn't always such a terrible thing. Plagues and accidents often lead to a surplus of potential undead (a term they use instead of "corpse" or "person"), with profit to be had. Animals are not except from this market and dead oxen can pull the plow just as well as a living one- if not better. Even as machinery take over many roles that were previously powered by animal muscle, enterprising Nekrobiotek experiments with way to make necromechanical monstrosities that excel even over machinery.
Dead Man Walking
Just like many working men and women have been replaced by the dead, so too have the armies of the world been endlessly bolstered by ranks of the dead. Every soldier, friend or foe, does not stop being useful just because they are killed. Specialized units of corpse-carters trawl the battlefields to gather the dead and undead alive for reanimation and reuse.
Casualties have become much less important then they once were. It is the undead that take most of the bullets and do most of the charging across no-mans-land. At home, they fill the factories and ensure there are no shortage for the civilian population. All agree that the Great War must end at some point, but no one is quite sure when.
Particularly among the Shinomas Magocracy, the science of war has evolved the dead from a simple walking corpse to things of rotting flesh and metal that only vaguely resemble what they once were. There War Beasts are amalgamations of different animals or people sewn together and reanimated. While the technology is still in its infancy, every day sees some new terror unleashed upon the battlefield.