One of the Kingdoms in my world started as the epitome of a stereotypical evil. The kingdom fields an army of undead and has turned its citizens into varying forms of half-dead and undead. It is situated in a mountainous region with very few natural passes that are well defended.
How would it even work though? I mean, they would need lots of fresh meat, blood, and viscera of the living to feed their population. So naturally, they would be quite warlike to capture more living creatures they could use to feed their populace and replace lost undead soldiers, but even using that to supplement their own birth rate of an underclass, it couldn’t possibly be sustainable.
What if they realized that though? They would be putting furious amounts of research into an alternative. Even when they find a possibility, breeding specialized livestock and trees that produce flesh and bone indistinguishable from human, they still need time to make it happen. Their simply isn’t enough to go around to keep their whole populace around while they sort out their solution. Trying to cull any significant population to solve the problem will mean rebellion that will give their enemies the opening to finally get rid of Olloch. Slavers and disreputable traders are starting to get wind of their dire straits and are becoming too expensive to create any meaningful supply. Then a breakthrough, why not use the longevity of the undead to an advantage?
Then came the resting yards. These are like graveyards but but the half-dead population to go into hibernation while a group of stewards solve the problems of food supply. Diplomats are sent out signing white peace with Ollochian neighbors, the underclass is given the deal to become undead as well if they steward the kingdom during its people’s hibernation, and the Ollochian kingdom withdraws to its borders. Its mountain keeps staffed by their armies of skeletons, constructs, and minimal intelligent leadership. Now they have breathing room.
Decades pass as the meat trees are perfected. Some specialized crops are even created that can grow various human organ equivalents. Simple grazing livestock can convert the steppe grasses into blood, meat, and with some creative necromancy, bones. While not as filling as the human meat equivalents grown on the specially bred plants, the livestock meat and bones are bred to be stronger and more conducive to the necromantic arts that supply most of the Ollochian military’s basic soldiers. However useful they are though, because they lack a human form, the old style of humanoids in armor will be replaced with cobbled together constructs. Some military partisans are not happy about the changes while they were hibernating.
Now, the kingdom is starting to wake up, but just because they’ve figured out how to do it, ramping up production and training more people still takes time. The stewards that ran things are carefully releasing people from the resting yards, keeping a close eye on how much meat they have saved up and the amount of production so things are taking much longer than anticipated. That’s when some officials had the idea to get outside labor, but the concern is who would trust them after years of taking humans for sacrifice, necromancy, and food?
The call is put out to adventurers, merchants, and explorers. What is the incentive? Olloch is giving out easy passports and advertising plenty of high paying jobs for adventurers. Only the riskiest of people venture it at first, and the kingdoms bordering them are instantly suspsicious, but when the crazy murderhobos start coming back with the old wealth of a kingdom that has done a great deal of conquest over the centuries. It turns out all they need help with is clearing the scrublands of wild undead, nests of beasts, and clearing overgrown land for new, weird farms. Even the covert operatives inserted to investigate are reporting the new meat trees and lack of human sacrifice. The former enemies are falling over themselves to cement their influence with the newly opened up Olloch, dreaming of turning its undead armies into their own war ally. Few living humans now were even alive when the undead kingdom was capturing and sacrificing people, so its crimes seem distant and lesser.
Some still harbor the idea that this is all an extensive ruse, but embassies have been set up, merchants are growing rich, and most people are scheming on how to overcome their rivals rather than prepare for the paranoid conspiracies.
What if one of the stewards watching the kingdom isn’t quite so peaceful? What if they disagree with the new lesser Olloch and are plotting behind the scenes? Perhaps a whole secret organization, maybe named the Dark Masks, that wants to go back to the good old days of conquest and sacrifice.