In Conquest of Elysium 3, the new turn-based strategy fantasy game from indie developer Illwinter due out next week, each of the 16 factions is unique. This means unique troops, unique leaders, unique abilities, and so forth. It also sometimes means unique resources no one else can use.

For instance, Hands of Glory. These are the severed left hands of executed murderers. Necromancers gather them from any settlement large enough to have murders. Cities are great for this. Peaceful hamlets not so much. The real motherlode is the occasional gallows, a location on the map apparently dedicated to hanging murderers. Necormancers start with a gallows next to their dark citadel. Track down a few more gallows, conquer a few cities, and soon you’ll be rolling in Hands of Glory.

After the jump, the horror, the horror

Hands of Glory are initially useful for summoning units, which is a bit of a slot machine. Sometimes you just get more brittle skeletons. Sometimes you get a raven familiar to help you ferret out the stupid invisible bandits that keep raiding your towns. Sometimes you get a hearty dire wolf. Save up enough Hands for a major summoning and you might end up with an ethereal wraith who is 75% immune to attacks and sometimes brings along a few awesome magic items (I’m sorry, Plaguetongue, but I’m going to have to appropriate your ring of regeneration for my grand necromancer). Or a carrion dragon who can fly around and scout out the map, unconcerned about getting ganked by an enemy army because he’s immortal, so he’ll just be reborn at the main castle a few turns later. Or my personal favorite, that lovely formidable massive glob of flesh called an abomination, which swallows enemy armies to heal itself up.

Hands of Glory are also useful for Dark Knowledge, a spell that will reveal sites around the map useful to necromancers. Leave it to the other factions to strike out blindly into terra incognito. Necromancers can move with a sense of purpose.

But the real value of Hands of Glory are to keep your heads on straight. Most factions have to recruit new units from their starting location. They have to spend precious gold and hard-earned iron, which usually means they only get a few units at a time. It’s all very quaint to the necromancers, who instead use their raise dead ability at any place where corpses are found. For instance, the sites of battles such as the one you just fought!

So the recruiting process for most factions goes like this:

1) Save up gold
2) Keep saving up gold
3) Save up more gold
4) Wait for a few units of iron
5) Recruit 5 heavy infantry
6) Save up gold
7) Still not enough
8) Not quite there
9) Rats, it’s winter, so your gold income is cut by 80%
10) Save up gold
11) Recruit 5 heavy infantry. Nope, not enough iron. Settle for 5 spearman
12) Repeat as needed

The recruiting process for necromancers goes like this:

1) Fight a battle
2) Use raise dead to replenish troops for free
3) Repeat as needed

There is one teensy little catch to that last step about repeating as needed. Every time a necromancer uses his raise dead ability, he accrues a few points of insanity. Because, you know, if you peer into the abyss for too long, etc., etc., etc. A little insanity is no big deal. 6 points, 12 points, 20 points, whatever. Because in game language, insanity is just the percentage chance that your necromancer loses a turn, presumably because he’s too busy gibbering madly. The bottom line is that sometimes necromancers have to stop and smell the rotted flowers of the dark corners of their minds. No big deal. You’ll get there. This is not a race. It’s a turn-based strategy game.

The result is that later in the game, necromancers often have armies hanging out, refusing to go anywhere. Mad necromancers squatting Kurtz-like in some remote swamp or mountain range, gibbering about snails on razorblades and swallowing bugs while their armies of longdead and soulless mill about, not conquering much of anything. The horror, the horror.

Luckily, there’s a way around insanity. If you save up enough Hands of Glory, your leaders can upgrade themselves from apprentices to necromancers to grand necromancers, growing more powerful at each stage. If you save up even more Hands of Glory, a necromancer can turn into a vampire, which lets him feed on human blood at towns and cities to reduce his insanity. I call this “stopping in for a drink”.

Better yet, a grand necromancer can turn into a lich. As we know from history, liches don’t care about sanity one way or the other. They can therefore raise dead with impunity. What’s more, they’re immortal, like that carrion dragon I mentioned earlier. When a lich dies, he simply respawns at his home base after a few turns. Once a grand necromancer becomes a lich, it’s on like Donkey Kong. Undead Donkey Kong. With a hundred longdead and soulless raised in a single turn.

But here’s where Conquest of Elysium 3 throws a pretty nifty wrench into the works. Naturally, a necromancer is going to want to take advantage of his special raise dead recruiting, and he’s going to want to minimize the side effects by turning his necromancers into vampires and liches. That’s the thrust of this faction’s mid-game. So you save up Hands of Glory as needed, constantly fighting the tension between summoning cool units and saving up to pass over to vampire-hood or lich-ness.

But once your coffers are brimming with Hands of Glory, you’re not quite there, because there’s one more thing you need: a special location. You need a temple to turn into a lich and you need an old castle to turn into a vampire. Which means first you have to find one of these special locations. And then you have to get your necromancers there, often stopping for quick or not-so-quick insanity breaks. It’s like taking a road trip with someone who has a small bladder. A small mental bladder. Oh, for Pete’s sake, we just stopped two turns ago and now you have to go insane again?

So necromancers can’t just hang out and raise dead forever. Their sanity will only hold out for so long. The dramatic tension of playing the necromancers is between using their special raise dead ability and expanding out onto the map to find more sources of corpses, more sources of Hands of Glory, and eventually that damn temple or old castle you need to really go crazy and conquer the world.

Up next: everything you wanted to know about dwarf sex but were afraid to ask