There is a tradition in the U.S. Navy that no submarine is lost at sea. These vessels that go to sea and never return are simply ‘still on patrol.’ They even do a yearly Christmas broadcast to the crew of these ships to honor them and remind them that they are not forgotten.
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I love a good ghost story, and this simple premise can be the seed for many stories both horrible and somber.
The Eternal Guard
A group of soldiers dying long ago isn’t anything unusual, but there is a sad story to be told if the souls of the dead still guard their charge. A band of soldiers who devoutly guard the hill and await the horns of victory that would never come. Now, centuries later, the soldiers still guard the hill, protecting it for a kingdom that no longer exists. Is it better to leave them with the eternal hope of victory, or tell them that their efforts are in vain and their kin died long ago?
The Wardens of Beyond
Not all undead are ‘evil’ and many just have unresolved threats that prevent them from resting in peace. There are many horrors that a band of warriors could feel charged to beat away from the innocent. The endless game of cat and mouse has denied these warriors rest, and now this undead platoon wanders the edge of civilization on an eternal patrol to keep the darkness at bay.
The story of the resolute immortal warrior, though inspiring, can be incredibly somber. The warriors may still fight tooth and nail, but forgot their own name or why they began fighting in the first place. You could allow your adventurers to free these souls by simply killing what remains of them, but you could always pull on the heartstrings instead.
You could easily make those soldiers on a hill slowly regenerate and return to the hill if destroyed until one of the 5 remaining families of the kingdom that was butchered goes to the hill, thanks the spirits for their service, lies about how their kingdom is thriving, and releases them from duty.
Those wardens who guard civilization from the unkillable threat, what happens when the players finally slay the monster for good and show the restless dead that their fight is over? A visible weight will taken from the burdened shoulders of the undead, and they would each thank the heroes for finishing the fight.