What Is An Undead?
"What lies at the end of a life well lived? Eons of cold servitude, your flesh but a memory, your every tortured thought focused on one thing only: to feed on the living." - Academician Drake, Bleak Academy Necromancer
". . . uhhnnnss. . . ." - Nameless zombie
Among scholars, debates rage about the multitude of forms, powers, and abilities to be found, among the undead. Why are they not all alike? The differences spring from the source of unlife itself, the dark élan that suffusses the necrotic tissue of the dead.
Manifestations of Undeath
Undeath manifests itself in various ways. One need only flip though the pages of a necromancer's bestiary to see the multiple of forms and states ascribed to the undead.
|Corporeal, preserved with feeding||Vampire|
One unifying element defines most undead creatures: Each must have been alive in the past, no matter how little of the original creature is left, even if just the spirit or memory remains. Although extreme and rare cases have seen small bit of the energy of unlife itself (negative energy) take on terrible form and purpose, almost all undead once had breath in their bodies before gaining their feared title.
Origins of Undeath
Numerous theories exist concerning the nature of undeath, and though some hypothesis compete with or contradict one another, others reinforce or overlap each other. While these conjectures may not agree on the origins of unlife, most of them at least assert that this condition is generally visited upon the bodies of recently deceased creatures. Below are some of the more widely accepted theosies about the origins of this affliction
Atrocity Calls to Unlife: Evil acts can resonate in multiple dimensions, opening cracks in reality and letting the blight creep in. A sufficiently heinous act may attract the attention of malicious spirits, bodiless and seeking to house themselves in flesh, especially recently vacated vessels. Such spirits are often little more than nodes of unquenchable hunger, wishing only to feed. These comprise many of the mindless undead. Sometimes these evil influences also manage to reinvigorate the decaying memories of the body's former host. Thus, some semblance of the original personality and memories remain, though the newly awakened being is invariably twisted by the inhabiting spirit, resulting in an evil, twisted, and intelligent creature. However, this being is not truly inhabited by the spirit of the original creature, which has left to seek its ultimate destiny in the Outer Planes. This amalgamation is something entirely new.
Other times, atrocious deeds call dark, reanimating spirits into the fleshy form of the newly deceased, leaving the original spirit intact. This might happen if the person was already evil, or was tempted to evil in life. Alternatively, some good spirits might be unnaturally trapped within their bodies, slowly being perverted to evil as the dark spirits convert the body to undead status.
Negative Energy as a Supportive Force: While atrocity may serve as a trigger for unlife, it is nor enough to bring about a transformation of this magnitude on its own. It requires the very energy that drives dark spirits and their unquenchable thirst for life. That which is dead has no vitality, so where does the energy of animation come from? Negative energy - a force that is marshaled, stored, and utilized mostly by evil creatures, malign deities, and their servants - provides the power for this metamorphosis. Just as blood suffuses living creatures, negative energy suffuses undead, providing them all their abilities, from mobility to sentience, from flesh-eating to soul-devouring.
Negative Energy as a Draining Eorce: Some claim that undead exist concurrently on the Material Plane and the Negative Energy Plane. More precisely, they believe that undead on the Material Plane are linked to the Negative Energy Plane via a conduit, just as life itself somehow partakes of positive energy.
The Negative Energy Plane is the heart of darkness - the hunger that devours souls. Iris a barren, empty place, a void without end, and a place of vacant, suffocating night. Worse, it is a needy, greedy plane, sucking the life out of anything vulnerable to its grasp. Heat, fire, and life itself are all drawn into the maw of this plane, which perpetually hungers for more.
The very existence of even the weakest undead produces a constant drain on the energies of the Material Plane, which accounts for sensations of cold often attributed to the unliving. As part of the enchantment of their creation, undead "siphon" a bit of the energy flowing from the Material Plane toward the Negative Energy Plane. This "stolen" energy serves to power their ongoing existence.
More powerful undead have a stronger connection to the Negative Energy Plane and are therefore able to siphon even more Material Plane energy for their own purposes before it is forever lost in the Final Void. This type of animation is known as necromancy, but it could also be called entropic animancy. Wizards speculate that magic might be able to link objects or corpses to the Positive Energy Plane, in this case reversing the flow of energy.
Undeath as Contagion: Many undead have methods of propagating their curse among their previously living victims. For instance, those infected by the diseased bite of a ghoul may contract ghoul fever. Those who perish from this rotting illness rise at the next midnight as ghouls themselves. In this way, some undead recruit the formerly living into their shuffling ranks.
Undead propagate in a sick parody of life's method of multiplying. Worse yet, undead proliferation is far quicker, easier, and doesn't require the consent of the creature to be made undead - only a victim's inability to drive off the grave-born attacker.
Purposeful Reanimation: Count on the knowledge-seekers to pursue too far the spark of life, and the dark fruits of death. Some seek death's secrets out of fear, thinking that by overcoming mortality, they will have no more to dread. Mages who tread this road to its conclusion sometimes embrace death completely, though they do not become immortal but simply enduring. Spellcasters who adopt this existence are commonly known as liches. To their sorrow, most find that forsaking all the pleasures of life while continuing to exist is a fate worse than the absolution of true death. Others probe the boundaries between one's last breath and the final silence solely for the sake of knowledge. Shorn of conscience or any passion other than the need to know the truth, these dabblers have been responsible for plagues of zombies, soul-snuffing winds, and other atrocities.
Sometimes these learned mages also experiment with animation of inert matter that shares many properties with the animation of undead, especially when the inert matter in question is composed of the cast-off body parts of once-living creatures. Such creations are commonly known as flesh golems. However, as similar as a flesh golem (or any other construct) may appear to a zombie, constructs and undead remain separate entities, for two main reasons. First, negative energy is not a requisite power for any common construct, including flesh golems. Negative energy does not energize constructs, nor does negative energy play a part in the methods whereby constructs can afflict foes. Second, constructs are not animated by evil spirits, but rather by elemental spirits. By some people's estimation, this similarity is too close for comfort, but most feel that the difference is great enough to warrant a clear separation of type.
See also Variant Rule: Haunting Presences
"Necromantic metabolism and faith are indistinguishable. What is animation of fallow tissue if not faith so pure and undiluted that it can reach past the grave?" - Gulthias, vampiric head of Ashardalon's Cult
"I know only this-I feed to live, and live to feed." - Redbone, wight assassin
Barring misfortune or their purposeful destruction, undead can expect to survive in good health for thousands of years, possibly even a great deal longer. Undead creatures differ from the living in far more ways than just longevity, however. This section expands on the undead traits already noted in the description of the undead type on page 317 of the Monster Manual.
With rare exceptions, undead have little or no metabolism to speak of. Undead are essentially animated by negative energy, though this animation is sometimes dependent upon the undead's ability to feed. Still, while biology plays little part in the existence of these creatures, the undead do have some similarities to living beings.
Like ectothermic (cold-blooded) creatures, the unliving lack the ability to produce their own heat and must depend on their environment for warmth. This inability to produce heat is a defining undead characteristic, most remarked upon by scholars and those who encounter them, and often compared to the chill of the grave. To classify undead as cold-blooded creatures would be inaccurate, however, since undead are mostly bloodless. Like ectotherms, undead take on the temperature of their surroundings. However, unlike cold-blooded living creatures, undead are not unduly harmed by particularly low temperatures (unless they become frozen solid) or particularly high temperatures (unless they begin to smolder and burn).
Some undead exist for centuries without interacting with any living beings, while others seem to require, or at least crave with an unstoppable passion, the flesh, energy, or life force of the still living. However, even undead that do not need to eat may have a preferred morsel. Essentially, some undead can choose to eat if they desire, even if they have no requirement to consume. They could eat even ordinary food, if they desired to appear normal or were interested in trying to tease our some hint of flavor; undead with tongues, such as ghouls and skirrs actually retain their sense of taste.
Some undead glory in their ability to feed off the living. Others, especially the more intelligent, romanticize or even eroticize their need to feed on the living to maintain their strength (or to feed their addiction). Still, despite the fact that this feeding ability is often dangerous (or even deadly) to those who oppose them, the hunger behind it is a major weakness for many undead.
With all of this in mind, undead feeding requirements can be broken into three types: not required, inescapable craving, and diet dependent.
Not Required: Some undead have no feeding requirements, existing solely on negative energy.
Inescapable Craving: Some undead have no "bodily" requirement to feed, and could continue to exist solely on negative energy, but are driven to their diet all the same by inescapable cravings. These cravings, denied too long, could turn even a sentient undead to mindless hunger. Once the feeding is accomplished and the hunger sated, the intensity of the craving drops back to a tolerable level, but it is a cycle doomed to repeat itself.
Diet Dependent: Some undead must feed on the living to retain either their mobility or some of their other abilities. The link to the Negative Energy Plane for undead of these sort grows increasingly tenuous the longer they are denied the necessary food. At some point, their mobility or one or more specific abilities are suppressed until they can feed again. However, no matter how enervated by lack of feeding, undead cannot be starved to the point of permanent deanimation. A fresh infusion of their preferred food can always bring them back to their full abilities. Most diet-dependent undead can go for 3d6 months before losing all mobility.
If a player controls an undead with a diet-dependent existence, use the Variant Rule: Handling Undead Hunger.
Undead Hunger: Undead that have an inescapable craving do not have the option to not feed; their hellish hunger cannot be denied. Likewise, diet-dependent undead know that they require sustenance as well. Mindless undead do not care if their hunger drives them into the open or into tactically questionable attacks, but intelligent undead prefer to direct their own actions. However, if an intelligent undead is too long denied that which it desires most, its actions may soon drive it into a frenzy, despite its desire to remain hidden or anonymous. Similarly, those that depend on a steady diet to supplement their existence will take steps to see that their ability to feed is not compromised. The DM determines when insatiable hunger may play a role in an undead monster's or NPC's motivation.
|Undead Variety||Not Required||Inescapable Craving||Diet Dependent|
|Angel of decay||-||-||-|
|Bone rat swarm||-||-||-|
|Brain in a Jar||-||-||-|
|Corpse rat swarm||-||-||-|
|Demon, blood fiend||Life force²||Blood¹||-|
|Dust wight||-||Metal or stone items||-|
|Slaughter wight||-||Life force²||-|
|Spawn of Kyuss||-||-||-|
|Symbiont (ghostly visage)||-||-||-|
|Vampire spawn||-||Life force²||Blood¹|
|¹Causes ability drain or damage, which may also provide the undead with temporary hit points.|
² Undead drains victim's life force, resulting in negative levels.
³Undead drains magical charge from items.
This variant rule is best applied to undead player characters that are diet dependent or have inescapable cravings. These rules work less well for undead that spend years or more locked away in tombs before getting a chance to feed. However, the DM may decide to use these rules on a case-by-case basis for NPC or monster undead as well.
The hunger felt by an undead with the need for sustenance is akin to an addiction. Like living creatures with an extreme craving for some chemical substance, hungry undead are prone to erratic, violent, and sometimes self-destructive behavior if they are denied their preferred morsels.
|Hunger Type||Satiation||Will DC||Damage|
|Inescapable craving||1 day||25||1d6 Wis|
|Diet dependent||3 days||15||2d4 Wis|
Satiation: An undead with an inescapable craving takes ability damage each day unless it makes a successful DC 25 Will save. A diet-dependent undead takes ability damage every three days unless it makes a successful DC 15 Will save. Each time an undead feeds on its preferred morsel, it is satiated and need not make these saving throws for the satiation period noted on the table. After the satiation period wears off, the undead once again grows hungry.
Damage: An undead's need to feed is like a mental spike boring into its awareness, dealing the indicated damage each day unless the undead succeeds on the saving throw or feeds. An undead immediately gains back all of the ability damage it has taken if it manages to feed.
As the undead goes longer and longerwithout feeding, potentially losing Wisdom all the while, the undead grows increasingly unbalanced. It mulls over plans that would allow it to feed - plans it would likely consider too risky were it completely sane. When the undead reaches 0 Wisdom, it retains no volition of its own, no judgment to deter it from seeking its preferred morsel, even if the undead's utter destruction seems likely thereafter. (A player character who reaches 0 Wisdom from a failure to feed is temporarily remanded to the DM, who plays the undead as a ravening beast until the character has fed.)
An intelligent undead sometimes plans for this eventuality, even arranging to have itself locked away in a self-constructed vault from which it is unable to escape. It will stay there until a prearranged third party provides the undead with its preferred morsel (presumably in a fashion that does not endanger the third party, though accidents do happen).
A living creature that is lethally hurt may become disabled or dying. During this time, aid or good luck can return the creature back to health and eventually full strength. Undead are not so fortunate. What would disable or render unconscious a living creature destroys an undead creature beyond recall. (In game terms, when an undead is reduced to O hit points or less, it is permanently destroyed.) No aid, magical or mundane, is suffcient to restore the undead to its previous state of animation.
Since they are already dead, undead that are destroyed cannot be returned to existence through raise dead or reincarnate. Resurrection and true resurrection can affected undead, but these spells turn undead back into the living creatures they were before they became undead.
Only undead with Intelligence scores can recover lost hit points, usually through necromantic healing (see below) or through the application of negative energy. An undead with the fast healing ability does not require an Intelligence score to benefit from that ability.
Necromantic Healing: With 8 or more consecutive hours of inactivity in any 24-hour period, an undead with an Intelligence score recovers 1 hit point per Hit Die. If such an undead is completely inactive for a full 24-hour period, it recovers 2 hit points per Hit Die.
Magical Healing: The application of negative energy, such as an inflict spell, can restore hit points to an undead. Generally, any spell that would harm a living creature by the application of negative energy heals the same number of lost hit points when cast on an undead.
Healing Ability Damage: Ability damage is temporary, just as is hit point damage. Ability damage returns at the rate of 1 point per 24 hours (although ability damage taken through failure to satiate an undead's inescapable craving to feed or to satisfy an undead's diet dependence does nor heal naturally in this manner).
Necrotic Reserve: Some undead that have the ability to feed on the living can use this ability to invigorate their bodies on a daily basis, granting them some small reprieve from immediate destruction when they take damage. See the Necrotic Reserve feat for more details.
Undead do nor sleep, and they almost never require rest (though some may receive healing benefits from rest, as outlined above). However, undead that cast spells require some time to refresh their consciousness, just as living spellcasters do, before they can prepare or cast new spells.
To regain the ability to cast or prepare daily spells, an undead must have a clear mind. To clear its mind, the undead must experience 8 hours of restful calm - it must refrain from movement, combat, spellcasting, skill use, conversation, or any other demanding physical or mental task during the rest period. If the restful calm is interrupted, each interruption adds 1 hour to the total amount of time the undead has to rest in order to clear its mind.
Many undead share at least one characteristic with living creatures - they possess the means to propagate their own kind. Several varieties of undead can cause their slain victims to rise from the grave, thereby creating new unliving creatures.
Creating Undead Spawn: Many undead have the ability to create spawn (an equal or lesser version of themselves, but under their control) simply by slaying their victims. Presumably, the undead must have drained at least one of the victim's ability scores or bestowed at least one negative level for this death to occur. (For instance, a wight that pushes a gravestone over on an enemy, killing it, shouldn't expect to gain a new wight servant from the victim's remains.)
Taking a broader view, undead propagation might be regarded as an infectious disease: It is nasty, it is easily spread, and it kills its hosts. Of course, the plague of self-propagating undead is far worse than any common disease (especially since normal methods for preserving oneself against disease are useless in this case), but the cure is little different - eliminate the source of infection, and you eliminate the malady itself.
The unliving make use of several different methods to create new undead creatures. These methods, and the creatures that employ them, are summarized in the table below.
|Method||Creatures That Use It|
|Drain||Bleakborn, blood amniote, shadow, vampire, wraith|
|Kill victim with ability||Bodak, forsaken shell|
|Disease||Ghast, ghoul, lacedon|
|Energy drain||Crypt chanter, slaughter wight, spectre, vampire, wight|
|Magical creation||Lich, mummy, skeleton, zombie|
|Split||Dream vestige, skin kite|
Variant Rule: Forgoing Spawn Creation
In cases where stealth or obfuscation of their presence is necessary, some undead may choose to not create spawn. Any undead that has the ability to create spawn (even those that normally do so automatically) can choose to forgo that creation with a little effort. Each time it is capable of spawning a new creature, an undead can prevent the spawn from coming into existence by making a DC 15 Intelligence check.
Unlike living creatures, which grow and mature throughout their life cycles, undead are usually changeless, frozen in the moment of their creation. Most are cursed to never adopt new philosophies, or change with the uncertainties and lessons of life, or ever find happiness.
An undead that persists for century after century sometimes finds ways to grow in strength and knowledge. Its connection to the Negative Energy Plane, originally a mere trickle, can become an actual current over hundreds of years, and given enough time, a mighty stream.
Gaining Class levels: Intelligent undead have the option of receiving training and gaining levels in an NPC or PC class. Not all intelligent undead have the mental aptitude necessary for some of the more intellectual endeavors, so less cerebral classes, such as barbarian and fighter, often prove popular among them. Particularly intelligent undead are usually drawn to spellcasting classes. Undead that started as high-level spellcasters and used magic to bridge the gulf separating them from mortality may continue to add spellcasting classes normally.
Evolution: Sometimes undead just become stronger through time. This seasoning of ability takes hundreds of years of existence, and even then, of those undead that persevere for so long, only a handful grow more powerful. This maturity of power is dependent on the undead's tie to the Negative Energy Plane. As the creature's existence stretches through the centuries, its connection to this void energy slowly grows more secure, imbuing the monster with strength, vigor, and dark purpose. (See the evolved undead template, for more details.)
As with other predatory creatures, undead have senses sufficient to reveal their prey, and in some cases, these senses are even enhanced.
Vision (Ex): The energy that animates an undead extends to its organs of sight, giving all undead creatures darkvision out to at least 60 feet. They are never hindered by darkness, and they are able to see even in pitch black conditions, when most living creatures are unable to discern the least visual clue.
Scent and Hearing (Ex): The energy that animates an undead extends to the organs of scent and hearing as well. Thus, undead can smell and hear just as living beings do. As with sight, however, if an undead physically loses a particular organ, it can no longer use that particular ability.
Taste (Ex): The energy of animation also extends to an undead's organs of taste. However, if an undead physically loses its tongue, it can no longer detect its environment in this fashion. Many undead fall into this category, including skeletons. All incorporeal undead lose the ability to taste (but they can still hear and smell).
Touch: Undead retain a blunt, phantom sense of touch, more mechanical than biological. It is a pale, crude approximation of a real tactile sense. Incorporeal undead have no sense of touch.
Lifesense: Some undead, especially those without the customary organs that grant the ability to sense their environment, sense the world as a great darkness illuminated only by the "light" given off by living creatures. To such an undead, each living creature gives off "light" in a 20-foot radius, illuminating all objects within that radius. (See the Lifesense feat, for more details.)
Undead Outlook and Psychology
"Death does determine life Once life is finished it acquires a sense, up to that point it makes no sense; its sense is suspended and therefore ambiguous." -Pier Paolo Pasalini
"Death borders upon our birth, and our cradle stands in the grave." -Joseph Hall
Like people, no two undead have exactly the same outlook. However, among a population that is composed of stale flesh, skeletal shells, or insubstantial shadows of ill will, certain similarities emerge.
The ability to think is a quality the vast bulk of undead do not possess. Mindless undead merely respond to preset commands or stimuli, driven by nothing other than the energy that animates them. These undead have no outlook; they are robbed of thought. They are nearly mechanical in their actions, and often those actions are as easy to anticipate as the revolution of a water wheel.
On the other hand, sometimes mindless undead are agents of an intelligent master, whether undead or merely malign. Thus, even mindless undead may prove to be surprising foes, if their positions and responses to a given situation are properly coordinated and prepared. Only sentient undead have the luxury of possessing an outlook and a comprehensible psychological state.
Time and Immortality
Those creatures fanatical enough to actually seek undeath strive to escape the bonds of mortality and thereby gain a term of existence far beyond their natural life spans. Such mortals often presume that this gift of extended time comes without a price. They hope that by having no temporal limits on their life spans, they will be able to accomplish all of their dreams and visions.
The living spend their time living life and gathering experience, thereby shaping their personalities and adjusting to the world as it changes around them. In contrast, the undead mind sees the passage of time very differently. Undead exist, they do not live. Life means change, and while undead endure over time and learn new facts, they rarely change or appreciate new paradigms. Aside from a rare few exceptions, an undead's outlook remains stagnant over the decades, or centuries, of its existence, despite new experiences and new situations it may encounter.
This inflexible mental nature is the reason many ancient undead seem insane. In fact, they may merely be operating with goals and aspirations that are slightly out of step with the present world. Unfortunately, like any ambition that cannot be swayed by reason or tempered by changing circumstances, the goals of the stubborn immortal undead become a cankerous evil that can only be excised. While a living creature may accept compromise when life hands it a new challenge, undead can rarely do anything other than what they have always done.
Compassion is a choice. When someone is perceived as compassionate, that person has made a series of choices. Mindless undead are already out of the running when it comes to making choices, but what about sentient undead and compassion?
Plainly, the choice to be compassionate is not something most intelligent undead consider. In many cases, the event that animated a particular undead is such a transformative experience that it imprints the new undead in its image. And in almost every case, that event is generated from an evil impulse or action.
But is something truly evil if it doesn't consider the consequences of its actions? Yes, of course, but consider evil for evil's sake - the ability to recognize that actions taken will cause horror, ruin, and death, but to take those actions anyway. Most intelligent undead retain enough memory of their former lives to know that their acts are horrendous. Some may even feel pangs of guilt, even going so far as to capriciously allow surviving victims to go free. This act becomes more likely if the undead is a feeder that has recently fed on irs preferred morsel. However, when the hunger mounts again, as it must, the undead may curse its generosity, again seeking out those it previously allowed to escape.
For other undead with the ability to "feel," it is an easier burden to bear if they mentally detach themselves from their former lives. These undead cannot feel empathy for would-be victims because they no longer feel a kinship. To these undead, the living are now the prey, and the undead the predators. Just as wolves take down weak and old herd beasts, so too can undead prey upon the living, simply fulfilling their role in the "natural" order of life.
Variant Rule: Influencing Undead
Victims may attempt to play upon the sympathy of certain intelligent undead, seeking leniency or freedom. If the would-be victim can verbally demonstrate some kinship with the undead assailant (recalling to the undead that it once breathed, was once also human, also had children at home, or demonstrating some other, more direct relationship), the victim gains a +4 circumstance bonus to influence the undead with a Diplomacy check. Most undead begin with a hostile attitude, but if a victim can change the attitude to indifferent or better, that undead may allow the victim and friends to go free, at the DM's option. However, this grace period lasts only 10d10 minutes, after which the undead has a change of heart, regrets its leniency, and again seeks out its former prisoners. At this point, no further play on its sympathy is possible.
Variant Rule: Undead Density
When too many undead are spawned (or gather on their own initiative), the concentration of undead within a given area rises. As the density increases, the influence of so many creatures suffused with negative energy can have real effects.
Undead density is expressed in terms of the total Hit Dice of undead in a 100-foot-radius sphere (regardless of intervening walls or other barriers). If the total Hit Dice of undead in this area rises to 1,000 or higher, the saturation of negative energy effectively grants all undead in the area +4 turn resistance.
An even higher undead density could grant greater turn resistance, but such density would be difficult to achieve due to space requirements and crowding.
Many undead have the ability to create spawn (see Undead Propagation), but undead take a very different approach to their "children" than mortals do. Although exceptions exist (such as the necropolitans, which are created willingly by other undead in a grisly and painful ceremony, as described in necropolitan), most undead tend to fall within the general parameters described below.
Undead of low intelligence (such as shadows) that have the ability to create spawn do so almost by accident. They do not create spawn for any higher purpose but as a consequence of the curse that gives them life. Sometimes undead of low intelligence even come to regard the spawn they have created as competitors for the same living resources, resulting in conflict.
Undead with more intelligence (such as wraiths and vampires) usually create spawn only when it serves their goals. Unfortunately for the living victims, it is often in the undead's best interest to create spawn. After all, nor only does it eliminate a potential adversary, but it creates a willing ally in the process.
Once undead have created their spawn, they may command these "children" as they see fit. Their power over the spawn they have created remains in effect until their death, at which time all their spawn become free. Spawn in turn have the same capacity to create children in their own image, and they may command those children as they are in turn commanded by their creator.
It is not uncommon for great webs of control to exist in undead hierarchies, reaching back to the oldest, longest surviving undead that initiated the chain. Ultimately, the "heads" of these undead webs may wield great power if they guide their ever-growing family in ways that maximize their strength and minimize their exposure to being found and eliminated by zealous undead hunters.
Usually, even creatures of limited free will come to resent being under the control of another, but this is not true of undead spawn. The act of their creation generates a bond of service and even affection for their creators. While this command can be briefly undermined through a cleric's turning or rebuking ability, undead always return to the service of their creators if possible.
Calling any portion of the bond between spawn and creator "affection" maybe going too far, but spawn are definitely slavish in their attention to every detail of their creators' wishes. Spawn never hesitate to take any action commanded by their creators, even if that action leads to certain destruction.
However, this "affection" doesn't necessarily run both ways. For the most part, spawn creators care little for the fate of those they have created, except so far as it serves a larger plan or generates a body of useful servants, intelligent undead view their spawn in much the same manner as they view the mindless undead in their employ - expendable.
Some undead that retain corporeal bodes and can create spawn (most notably vampires) retain a strong tie to the associations of their life. As such, they may continue to nurture real affection for individuals still living. Tortured by the thought of losing contact with a friend or loved one, the undead may seek out that individual and, out of love, may attempt to turn its beloved into a spawn. If the attempt is successful, the loved one joins the ranks of the undead, but the bond between the two of them is now artificially enforced by the nature of the creation. The "loved one" now exists in a horrible position of compulsory affection.
"I am dead; dead, but who could recognize it? When I haunt the coffee houses, the dances, and the elegant evening parties, who would guess that I am anything other than the witty gentleman with pale skin and dark eyes I pretend to be? Who, but those whom I use to slake my thirst." -Phenorn Marquiz, well-known socializer
"Beyond acrobatics, beyond theater, the Deathless Troupe has created an entirely original form of entertainment. Part theater, part opera, the troupe creates a world where anything is possible. For it is in the theater that the unliving try to understand their destiny." -Ethana, proprietress of the Theater of the Dead
Because undead can be "made" of any living creature, they generally have no overall culture or single form of society. However, undead can still be defined in how they interact with other established societies around them. Additionally, while most undead prefer to exist on the fringes of real society, some undead are more cultured and refined in their sensibilities.
No Society: Many undead have no society. They are animated through chance or malign power, they lurk for years in or near a grave, and if they need to feed, they scrabble and claw their way to their desired food as best they can. They continue this pattern ceaselessly until they are finally destroyed. Mindless undead make up the bulk of these societyless undead, but any undead, no matter its intelligence, can fall into this basic predatory existence.
Infiltrators: Undead with magical powers sufficient to disguise their lifeless nature sometimes choose to partake in the society of the living. Undead that can naturally appear alive also commonly employ this trick, particularly vampires. In this way, some undead never really leave the society from which they sprang, though their habits must change to support this masquerade.
Undead may choose to retain their ties to living society for several different reasons. For instance, some undead feel that without the contacts and entertainments they enjoyed as living creatures, they would eventually become insane. Additionally, the infiltration of living society also provides some undead with a constantly renewing pool of potential victims. This scenario has been played our so many times (particularly with vampires) that it needs little further elaboration.
Finally, intelligent undead may have other requirements beyond simple nourishment or surcease from loneliness. Liches, in particular, enter their unliving state to prevent disturbing their research by anything so mundane as mortality. While many liches are content to entomb themselves for eons of private study, other liches understand the value of collaboration and desire access to the latest magical theories and research. These "cosmopolitan" undead may maintain the charade of life simply to ensure their continued access to such resources as magical academies, memberships in spellcaster guilds, and access to libraries of lore.
Open Members: In some extraordinary settings, undead need not even hide their status, but may become open members of society. Where, you might ask, can undead openly walk the streets without be shunned and hunted? Probably not anywhere on the Material Plane, but some extraplanar cities are cosmopolitan enough to grant limited citizenship even to undead, presuming that those undead follow all the rules of polite society. The rules of such societies generally include, first and foremost, no predation on other members of that society. On the Outer Planes, Sigil (also called the City of Doors) is the most renowned of such tolerant locations.
Even in such open-minded cities, undead must often submit to a process of authorization in order to have unrestricted legal access to the metropolis. An undead with recognized feeding requirements (notably vampires, but also other undead) must obtain an authorization for a given length of time (which varies by locale or even precinct, but usually must be renewed at least once a year). This authorization requires the undead to show, in detail, how it will meet its feeding needs for the given period in a way that does not involve harm to other citizens, visitors to the locale, or citizens of other locations that could find fault with the city's harboring the undead in question. Most such plans revolve around the purchase of livestock from which the undead obtains sustenance.
Living citizens are usually presumed innocent of predation until proven otherwise, but for undead, whose natures are often impossible to suppress, the presumption goes the other way. Undead that are openly part of societies that tolerate them must go a step farther than the average citizen to maintain their civilized nationality. They must be very careful nor to break any rules or overstep any boundaries, or their citizenship may not be the only thing revoked.
Undead Society: In some places, the roles of living and dead in society are turned upside down. Undead are a parr of society to such an extent that they are completely integrated. Undead merchants sell their wares in the shadowed end of the market bazaar, undead councilors hold positions of authority, and undead adventurers seek gold and glory alongside (or instead of) living thrill-seekers.
In other places, undeath is the dominant aspect of society. Only the dead partake of the society's benefits, and all the needs of the society are addressed. Farms on the outskirts of large cities do not grow grains, but instead produce living creatures (often humanoids) that feed the undead masses that require life essence, blood, or flesh for sustenance. Unless a would-be member of this society is already undead, becoming a member requires the creature to undergo the transformation into unlife.
For example, in a ward of the city called Nocturnus, undead rule. While living citizens from other parts of the city can enter the ward and conduct their business, only undead can claim residence in the ward, and therefore gain the dark benefits provided to ward residents. The living can petition to take up residence in the undead ward, called the Pale, but they must submit to a supremely painful process called crucimigration, which transforms them into deathless, but intelligent, versions of their former selves. (See the necropolitan description, for more details about this transformation.)
"I fight dragons because I want to. I fight undead because I have to." - Jozan, cleric of Pelor
The undead. Perhaps no other type of creature conjures up such utter revulsion in the minds of its opponents. Not only are such creatures possessed of deadly powers, but their very existance serves to remind characters of the eternal punishments that may lie beyond the grave. Some undead even have the ability to transform their fallen opponents into similarly twisted mockeries of life - the ultimate penalty for failure.
As formidable and unstoppable as undead sometimes seem, they also have their vulnerabilities. This section serves as a guide for the adventurer who must face these living dead in battle. From the lowly skeleton to the mighty lich, every undead creature has its own quirks and special abilities. If you fight undead in the same manner that you fight ogres and dire wolves, you will most likely come out on the losing end of the battle before too long. If instead you learn which tactics to use against the many undead foes you face, your chances of survival increase dramatically.
Know Your Foe
Even counting only those that appear in the Monster Manual, a wide variety of undead creatures exist in the D&D game. Many are similar in appearance and/or tactics, which can become very confusing to even the most seasoned adventurer. The hero who mistakes a ghost for a wraith is at a distinct disadvantage, even before a single attack is made.
The most useful skill in identifying undead creatures is Knowledge (religion), since the teachings of the temple often include information about these foes of all living clerics. When you view an undead creature, you can identify its kind (ghoul, wraith, mummy, and so on) by making a successful Knowledge (religion) check as a free action. The DC of the check is 10 + the creature's base HD. Don't include any extra HD from advancement or class levels in this calculation. For creatures without a base quantity of HD (such as a vampire or lich), set the DC at 20 or 10 + total HD, whichever is lower. If you can hear an undead but not see it (for instance, a mummy shuffling through the darkness), add +5 to the DC when trying to identify it.
Once you have identified the variety of undead creature you are facing, try to determine what special attacks, special qualities, or vulnerabiliries it might have. Once per round on your turn, you can make another Knowledge (religion) check as a free action to remember or figure out an important bit of information. For example, if you have identified your foe as a wraith, you can attempt another check to remember that it has a Constitution-draining touch attack, or that any humanoid it slays rises as a wraith a few rounds later, or that it is powerless in daylight. Each check reveals only one piece of information, but the DM can choose to give you another piece of useful information for every 5 points by which your check result exceeds the DC.
The DM can modify the DC by 2 or more for undead deemed particularly rare or common in the campaign. For instance, if ghouls are prevalent in the campaign world, the DM might reduce the DC to identify them from 12 to 10, since most people have seen or at least heard of ghouls. Conversely, when introducing a new undead creature to the campaign, the DM might increase the DC to identify it by 5 to reflect its rarity, at least on the first couple of times characters encounter it.
Normally you can't retry a Knowledge check - you simply know an answer or you don't - but the DM may allow you to retry a check to identify a creature or remember some bit of information after you have learned something new about it. For instance, if you fail to identify a ghoul before it attacks, you might receive another chance to identify it after it paralyzes your comrade.
Characters without much expertise in Knowledge (religion) can use Gather Information to learn about undead creatures, though this check typically only comes into play after a first encounter with a particular kind of undead. Use the same DCs as for the Knowledge (religion) checks.
|Identify kind||10 + creature's base HD|
|Identify special attack||10 + creature's base HD|
|Identify special quality||10 + creature's base HD|
|Identify vulnerability||10 + creature's HD|
|+5||Character can hear but not see undead|
|+2||or higher Creature is particularly rare or unknown|
|-2||or lower Creature is particularly common or well known|
Know Its Weaknesses
Once you've identified what you face, the next step is to use proper tactics based on your foe's capabilities. While some techniques work well on a variety of undead, whenever possible you should tailor your preparation to the specific challenge you face.
The first tactic employed by characters against undead is typically turning (or rebuking, for those rare characters with that ability). At low levels, turning undead is very effective. Because multiple 1 HD and 2 HD creatures comprise reasonable challenges for a group of low-level characters, one use of the turning ability can often remove multiple undead from an encounter. Even as the characters reach 5th and 6th level, the turn undead ability can often remove multiple weak undead creatures from a mixed group.
The turn undead ability compares the cleric's level with the Hit Dice of the affected undead creatures. However, because Hit Dice generally increase much faster than a creature's CR, a cleric of 5th level or higher often faces undead creatures that have more Hit Dice than he can possibly affect with his turn undead ability. This means that high-level clerics are generally better off using their powerful spells or combat abilities directly against undead creatures rather than turning them.
Rotting sinews, missing tendons, and decomposing flesh flex in an obscene parody of life when they are flushed with negative energy. Additional quantities of negative energy even heal damage done to undead (see Undead Metabolism). Thus, it should come as no surprise that the opposed energy of the mulciverse, positive energy, has significant deleterious effects on moldering flesh.
Using Positive Energy: When positive energy is channeled and brandished by servitors of good-aligned deities, undead can be turned or even destroyed in a flash. Evil servitors may also choose to use positive energy to destroy undead, or subvert the intentions of even intelligent undead to their own purposes by holding this powerful force over their heads.
In general, a spell that channels positive energy deals as much damage to an undead creature as it would heal damage in a living creature. Healing effects that don't rely on positive energy (such as some psionic powers) have no effect on undead.
If you can maneuver yourself into position to touch an undead creature, you can deal a significant amount of damage with a cure spell or a heal spell. Ranged options include the mass cure wounds spells, mass heal, and disrupt undead. Holy water also uses positive energy to damage undead creatures, and a paladin's lay on hands ability deals damage to undead creatures just as a cure spell does.
|Positive Energy Effects|
|Bless water||Water deals 2d4 damage to undead, or 1 damage with splash|
|Cure wounds||Deals damage to undead by touch|
|Disrupt undead||Deals 1d6 damage to undead at range|
|Heal||Deals 10 hp/level damage to undead by touch|
|Mass heal||Deals 10 hp/level damage to many undead at range|
Positive Energy Resistance: Not all undead are equally susceptible to the harmful effects of positive energy. Some undead can resist the damage dealt to them by means of positive energy resistance, while others can better resist being turned or destroyed by the brandishing of positive energy in the service of a deity. (See the Positive Energy Resistance and Improved Turn Resistance feats for more details.)
A number of undead creatures have special vulnerability to sunlight. Some, such as the spectre and the wraith, are merely rendered powerless by sunlight. Others, such as the bodak and the vampire, can be damaged or even destroyed by exposure to sunlight.
Reason for Vulnerability: Why are some undead rendered powerless by sunlight, while others are destroyed by it, and yet others can blithely ignore it? Many have suggested theories to answer that question. Some early scholars suggested that sunlight was a manifestation of positive energy. However, if that were the case, presumably all undead would have some vulnerability to it (or at least those without resistance to positive energy), and since that does not seem robe the case, this theory has been discredited.
Currently, the most accepted theory about why sunlight is anathema to vampires, wraiths, and bodaks, among others, is its undiluted strength and the life-giving effect it has on most living creatures. Thus, some undead are just constitutionally unable to accept exposure to sunlight as anything other than a direct physical attack. Additionally, sunlight is light energy, strong and pure. While some undead gain much by mimicking the flexibility of life (such as the vampire) and others are strong in shadow where no illumination can reach them (such as the wraith), few can withstand the very radiation that engenders growth in the world. When bathed in its rays, they are rendered powerless or even disintegrated.
Sunlight Damage: Regardless of the effect, only real, direct sunlight deals damage unless a creature's descriptive text specifically states otherwise. For instance, despite its name, the daylight spell doesn't have any special effect against undead, even those vulnerable to sunlight. That said, even undead that don't have any special vulnerability to sunlight take extra damage from the sunlight-related spells listed in Effects of Sunlight Spells.
Enduring Sunlight: Some sunlight-vulnerable undead are more resistant to the harmful effects of sunlight than others. Instead of being instantly rendered powerless, or destroyed, these undead have a few rounds of grace. (See the Endure Sunlight feat, for more details.)
Many undead are resistant to certain kinds of physical attacks. The wise adventurer learns to bring the right weapon to any fight against undead.
General Weapons: Even at low levels, you can prepare for undead encounters by carrying both a bludgeoning weapon and a slashing weapon. Even if your secondary weapon doesn't deal as much damage as your primary weapon, it will still be better against those undead creatures with damage reduction, particularly at low levels. Use your mace, club, warhammer, or morningsrar against skeletons, while relying on your sword, axe, or dagger against zombies.
Magic Weapons: The most common weapon needed against undead creatures is a magic weapon. A weapon with an enhancement bonus of +1 or higher is needed to successfully attack a wide variety of incorporeal undead, from the shadow to the dread wraith. Make sure you have a +1 or better weapon handy in any situation where you expect to encounter undead. Barring that, pack a couple of scrolls or oils of magic weapon.
Special Weapons: Better still against incorporeal undead are ghost touch weapons. At a price equivalent to a +1 bonus, the ghost touch special ability is well within the reach of even low- to mid-level adventurers. The ghost touch weapon spell allows you to utilize the ability for a limited time, and works well for characters who don't encounter incorporeal undead with great frequency.
Other undead have special resistances or vulnerabilities to take into account when arming yourself. A flaming (or flaming burst) weapon works well against fire-vulnerable mummies. Pack a silvered weapon for vampire spawn encounters, and if you expect to run into the head vampire, carry a handy scroll or oil of greater magic weapon as well. Don't even think about going up against a lich without a magic bludgeoning weapon in the party. For the big, bad nightshades, a magic silvered weapon is a must (and when fighting the item-crushing nightwalker or magic-draining nightwing, you might want to bring a spare).
Wooden Stakes: Only vampires and vampire spawn are vulnerable to staking. Driving a wooden stake through a vampire's heart instantly slays the monster. However, those looking to exploit a vampire's vulnerability would do well to remember that staking a vampire is only half the task, and if the body is not dealt with, the vampire could return to shadow their steps at a later date. A staked vampire will quickly return to life if the stake is removed before the body has been destroyed properly (such as by removing the creature's head and filling its mouth with holy wafers).
If a vampire is staked, but the body is left to rot away on its own, the danger remains. Eventually, a lone stake might be all that remains visible, driven into the earth, the dust of the slain vampire long since blown away. However, if the stake is removed, that dust reconstitutes, and the vampire returns to animation within 72 hours.
Other Spells and Efferts
A few other spells in the Player's Handbook have other special effects against undead creatures, as summarized below. This list doesn't include spells specifically designed to be used against undead, such as command undead.
Disintegrate is a special case that bears mentioning. Though this spell has no special effect against undead creatures, the fact that such creatures have very low Fortitude saves makes disintegrate terrifically effective at destroying them.
|Spell Effects On Undead|
|Antimagic field||Incorporeal undead wink out while in area|
|Chill touch||Touched undead flees as if panicked for 1d4 rounds +1 round per caster level|
|Consecrate||Turning checks gain +3 bonus; undead take -1 penalty on attack rolls, damage rolls, and saves|
|Disrupting weapon||Weapon destroys undead|
|Hallow||Turn checks gain +4 bonus|
|Magic stone||Each stone deals 2d6+2 damage to undead|
|Wall of fire||Deals double damage to undead|
While the best defense may well be a good offense, that doesn't mean you should ignore some basic protective measures. Undead creatures pack some of the nastiest special attacks around, and if you don't prepare against those attacks, you dramatitally decrease your odds of survival.
Ability Damage and Drain
Many undead creatures, particularly incorporeal ones, have the ability to damage or drain ability scores. Ability damage and drain are significantly more difficult to heal than hit point damage, and they often have the secondary effect of reducing the target's ability to resist or survive further attacks. Even a single hit from a shadow can make a big difference in your ability to fight it off, and a few of them teaming up against you can make for a very quick (and one-sided) fight.
Don't make the mistake of thinking that damage or drain to an unimportant ability isn't worth worrying about. Fighters who take Wisdom or Charisma damage or drain may nor care about the immediate effects (since few fighters rely on skills or special powers based on those abilities), but they are probably much more vulnerable to those abilities being reduced to 0, which takes them out of the fight completely.
Though you can't easily protect yourself from ability damage or drain, you should keep handy some methods of restoring lost ability score points. These spells can be costly, whether in time, components, or both. The table below summarizes the various methods available to characters, the casting time, and any cost involved. The lowest-level spell that can cure ability damage is lesser restoration, and every character should carry around at least one potion or scroll of that spell as soon as he can afford it. Restoration is the lowest-level spell that can offset ability drain. Thus, it's also a good idea to have at least one scroll of restoration in the party at any given time.
|Restoring Ability Damage and Drain|
|Spell||Level||Damage Healed||Drain Healed||Casting Time||Cost|
|Heal, mass||Cleric 9,|
|All||All*||3 rds.||100 gp|
|Greater restoration||Cleric 7||All||All||10 min.||500 XP|
|Lesser restoration||Cleric 2,|
|Mass restoration||Cleric 8||All||All*||1 rd.||100 gp|
|*One ability score only.|
Though not common among the unliving, abilities that produce death effects are dangerous enough to merit forethought, regardless of their rarity. It's a good idea to keep a scroll of death ward handy. Even if you don't run into a bodak, banshee, or a spellcaster packing slay living or similar magic, it'll still help you against energy drain (see below). At higher levels, mass death ward can protect the whole party at a moment's notice, or casters can protect themselves with veil of undeath.
A handful of rare undead creatures can infect their victims with diseases. Nonetheless, you'll rarely need access to a remove disease spell in the field, since most diseases have lengthy incubation periods and thus aren't likely to kick in right away. The day after fighting any undead (particularly one you're not familiar with), it's a good idea for the cleric to cast remove disease on anyone who came in contact with the creature, just in case.
The most commonly known disease associated with undead, mummy rot, is actually a powerful and fast-acting curse. You'll need remove curse (or its more powerful cousin, break enchantment) to rid yourself of this horrific affliction. Unlike typical diseases, mummy rot also sets in fast enough that you'll want access to such spells even while adventuring.
Most characters fear energy drain more than almost any other attack form, and with good reason. Like ability damage or drain, energy drain delivers the double whammy of reducing your adventuring capabilities while simultaneously putting you closer to death. But while most forms of ability damage or drain simply knock you out at the extreme of their effect, energy drain can flat-out kill you (and possibly turn you into an undead creature as well).
Whenever possible, guard yourself against energy-draining attacks. Death ward is a common protection, though its short duration means you have to know what's coming for it to be useful. In the middle of combat, the cleric may find it difficult to reach you in time to cast this spell, though mass death ward overcomes that restriction. For the high-level cleric or wizard, veil of undeath provides foolproof protection from this threat.
Even fewer resources exist for eliminating negative levels than for healing ability damage or ability drain. These are summarized below.
|Restoring Negative Levels and Lost Levels|
|Spell||Level||Negative Levels Dispelled||Lost Levels Regained||Casting Time||Cost|
|All||1||3 rds.||100 gp|
|Greater restoration||Cleric 7||All||all||10 mm.||500 XP|
|Mass restoration||Cleric 8||All||1||1 rd.||100 gp|
If you can't remove negative levels before 24 hours elapse, at least make every effort to boost your Fortitude save before determining if they become permanent. Assuming you can know the time when the save must be made with reasonable accuracy, bear's endurance is an effective method for doing so, but any spell that increases Constitution or saving throws can help.
Though most undead creatures send a shudder down any adventurer's spine, only a few use the sheer power of magical terror against their foes. The lich's fear aura is only effective against the weakest of opponents, so you probably don't need to worry about it. (If your level is low enough to be affected by the lich's fear aura, you're better off running away anyway.) The mummy, on the other hand, has a powerful despair ability that can paralyze creatures that see it. Even though the effect is of short duration, it can cripple an unprepared adventuring group, allowing the mummy valuable time to obliterate its foes. The nightwalker also has a similar fear power, though it affects only those creatures that meet its gaze.
Calm emotions can suppress fear for several characters simultaneously. Remove fear works both as a fix for a terrified character as well as protection against fear effects. Bless and aid each grant a bonus on saves against fear, as does the bard's inspire courage ability and a paladin's aura of courage. At higher levels, spells such as heroes' feast and greater heroism provide immunity to fear. Whenever possible, take advantage of the preventive nature of these spells and effects to avoid suffering the fear entirely.
Potions of remove fear are cheap, but don't make the mistake of handing them out to characters likely to fail their saves against fear, since they'll be incapable of using the potions. Instead, leave them in the hands of characters with good Will saves and the speed to catch up with fleeing allies, such as monks.
Incorporeal creatures often prove terrifying to adventurers because they can bypass so many of the characters' defenses. No matter how tough your armor, shield, or hide is, the incorporeal touch attack of a shadow or spectre slips right through to deliver its deadly effect.
Obviously, increasing your touch AC - whether by improving your Dexterity, picking up a ring of protection or other item or effect that grants a deflection bonus, or adding some dodge bonuses - is the simplest and most effective method of guarding against the attacks of incorporeal creatures. Since these defenses also work perfectly well against other attack forms, they're efficient as well.
Still, sometimes the efficient methods aren't enough. If you find yourself fighting a lot of incorporeal undead, you may need more help against their attacks. Both mage armor and shield, since their Armor Class bonuses are force-based, add to your touch AC against incorporeal attacks. Ghost touch armor is a bit pricey, but incredibly valuable against incorporeal creatures. Other spells that work well against incorporeal attacks, include ectoplasmic armor (which increases your Armor Class against incorporeal touch attacks) and ectoplasmic shield (which damages incorporeal creatures that strike you).
A wide range of undead creatures have paralyzing attacks, from the ghoul to the lich. The simplest fix is remove paralysis (which works on up to four creatures). Freedom works as well, though it's a bit of an overkill. The best antiparalysis spell is freedom of movement. Not only does it free a paralyzed creature, it provides immunity to paralysis (as well as a wide range of other benefits) for 10 minutes per caster level.