5E About the undead


I'm a fan and he does describe his parameters about how undead are used in his game.

How do you prefer to use undead in your game?
 

aco175

Adventurer
Wow, if that is not a lot or reading. I admit I just skimmed most of it. It looks like it has a lot of good ideas about souls and true undead. I admit I do not really have any special reason why I use undead other then they make good bad guys and everyone knows they are evil and ok to destroy. They make good monsters to place in tombs and placed long locked up where monsters that are alive could not live.

I also like to use them enough to give the cleric a chance to use his turn power.
 

Dausuul

Legend
That is... a lot of text. Dude is in dire need of an editor. Here's my attempt to sum up:
  • When a creature dies, its soul spends a while in the Shadowfell Plane of Long Shadows before passing on to the outer planes.
  • Part of the process of passing on is shedding the dark emotions and impulses that burden the soul.
  • The cast-off dark impulses form an entity known as a shade, which can find its way back into the material plane. There, it possesses either a corpse or an animus (the animating force of a living creature), creating a corporeal or incorporeal undead respectively.
  • This being the case, undead are inherently evil. Creating undead is bringing evil things into the world. Trying to use undead for good purposes is playing with fire at best.
  • "True undead" are created when some force anchors the original soul to the undead being, either within the same body (e.g., a vampire) or within a separate object (a lich). Such souls are relentlessly corrupted and twisted, sinking into horrific evil.
  • When a lot of creatures die in one place, or a creature dies in a way that evokes powerful negative emotions, the veil is thinned and shades can more easily find their way back there.
  • Properly disposing of the bodies of the dead can reduce the chance of an undead arising.
I feel like he started with the 4E view of undead and fleshed it out into something more coherent and well defined. The results are pretty neat once you pare away the excess verbiage. Though I'm not sure why it is necessary to distinguish "animus" from "shade" - seems like it would work fine to have incorporeal undead be simply "naked shades" that have slipped back into the material plane.
 

Celebrim

Legend
While I do assume that magic is the physics of the game universe, I don't presume to try to write the physics text book of the imagined universe. I couldn't even write a physics text book of this one (despite lots of college level physics, I'm just an amateur).

Besides, it would be boring.

Instead of working out every detail of the magic behind undead, I tend to define undead narratively as, "All the spooky stuff from folk lore about the restless dead.", and then make up the "physics" as needed to justify it.

But honestly, even something like a "Zombie", is not something that I've fully worked out all the magical physics behind to have some idea how exactly they work. I do some hand waving about being "powered by anti-life" and being "unsouled automatons" and usually that's enough to get players to stop asking questions, but exactly how something can be "powered by anti-life" and exactly how that works isn't something I try to reconcile in great detail. It's "bad" and "not good" and "dangerous" and that's good enough to run with.

I do applaud his attempt to root everything in a cosmology and have an origin story that explains, as it were, "How did the camel get it's hump?", or whatever it is that might need to be explained. But his origin story isn't very generic, conflicts in various minor details with mine (for example, animals and plants preexist the gods in my campaign world), and probably conflicts most D&D settings. As such, it's particular to his table and isn't really portable.

However, I suspect at the level of the stories he's trying to create, there is a lot of compatibility. For all the backstory he gives, none of it seems to alter how we'd expect undead to behave or how you might interact with them. He gives a very strong reason why all undead are evil (that neatly eliminates all need to worry about how you treat someone's dead mom), but we probably already expect that and in most games I'd guess "this is someone's dead mom" doesn't come up nearly as much as "roll for initiative".
 

Aebir-Toril

Is lukewarm on the Forgotten Realms
I have my own complicated an egregiously long (and I mean long) explanations for Undead in my worlds, but, generally, it all boils down to the essential elements of Undead when they actually come into play.

It's more important, in my eyes, for Undead to make an impression at the table than in your campaign bible.
 

dave2008

Legend
That is... a lot of text. Dude is in dire need of an editor. Here's my attempt to sum up:
  • When a creature dies, its soul spends a while in the Shadowfell Plane of Long Shadows before passing on to the outer planes.
  • Part of the process of passing on is shedding the dark emotions and impulses that burden the soul.
  • The cast-off dark impulses form an entity known as a shade, which can find its way back into the material plane. There, it possesses either a corpse or an animus (the animating force of a living creature), creating a corporeal or incorporeal undead respectively.
  • This being the case, undead are inherently evil. Creating undead is bringing evil things into the world. Trying to use undead for good purposes is playing with fire at best.
  • "True undead" are created when some force anchors the original soul to the undead being, either within the same body (e.g., a vampire) or within a separate object (a lich). Such souls are relentlessly corrupted and twisted, sinking into horrific evil.
  • When a lot of creatures die in one place, or a creature dies in a way that evokes powerful negative emotions, the veil is thinned and shades can more easily find their way back there.
  • Properly disposing of the bodies of the dead can reduce the chance of an undead arising.
I feel like he started with the 4E view of undead and fleshed it out into something more coherent and well defined. The results are pretty neat once you pare away the excess verbiage. Though I'm not sure why it is necessary to distinguish "animus" from "shade" - seems like it would work fine to have incorporeal undead be simply "naked shades" that have slipped back into the material plane.
Good summary, I also prefer your take on the shades, I see no need for the "animus"
 
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LuisCarlos17f

Adventurer
I see three types of undead:

- Souless-mindless reanimated. Skeletors and zombies created by necromancy.

- Returned from beyond: ghosts, wraiths..

- Infected(/altered): vampires, ghouls...

And I use the deathless monster subtype: Undead healed by positive energy and hurt by necrotic damage, turned by evil clerics and rebuked by good ones. Usually the deathless are in the side of the good guys. Even the deathless as be summoned as pet monster by spirit shamans.

Undeads are dreadful monsters but if you abuse the PC will get ready against theses with the right weapons and item, and you have to use a more variety of creatures, as constructs, abominations or dark feys. Players shouldn't know what are they going to face.

And I also allow undead type with other, or we could say adding "necrotouched" monster subtype, for example fae-undead (for example: sluaghs or banshees), construct-undead (flesh or bone golems), outsider-undead or abomination-undead.
 
I've written out something similar for my game, because I needed to set the expectation up front that creating undead is an evil act. I needed to set it up front because two of the players were talking about raising dead party members as zombies to carry loot ("dead party members walk home and carry their share of the loot").

In my campaign world, if you use raise dead on a "dead" zombie, all you get is a "live" zombie. The original person is gone. The only way to raise the original person from the dead is high level magic (resurrect, wish).

There are funeral and burial ceremonies that prevent corpses from being turned into undead. it is a major social sin to leave corpses unconsecrated.
 

Chaosmancer

Adventurer
I like the cohesiveness of the world he built, but I feel like this would leave a weird place for certain tropes. And I think those tropes are the bigger reason behind "acceptable necromancy" in a lot of worldviews.

For example, Child Ghosts. The ghost of a child who stays in an area and helps others so they do not suffer the same fate they did. It is a powerful trope, and this view of undead isn't compatible with it. I mean, it feels weird to say that the little girl who pulls people out of the river is an evil abomination because her suffering left an imprint on the world. Even the idea that the remnant of suffering is evil and an abomination in some sense leads to some really tricky territory for me. I don't know how you square that.

For another example, the Spirit Guardian Barbarian. Are they evil? The spirits of their ancestors protect and guide them, but those would be ghosts, the souls staying connected to the mortal realm instead of passing into the Divine. Is it an abomination to deny yourself spiritual fulfillment to protect your great-great grandson? I can see a harsh law that says yes, but I don't think players are comfortable with that interpretation, because protecting your family is a good thing, and ancestors watching over you is a culturally relevant angle to look from.

I am curious if these can be easily reconciled with the Angryverse, but more than that, I think this is the sort of angle people come from when they are looking at "not all necromancers are evil". Because, if the ghost child is not evil, then binding her and allowing her to help more people, with her permission, is not evil. If your ancestors protecting you is not evil, then binding their will to their bones, allowing them to protect the family in more immediate ways, would not be evil. It leads to seeing the ways it could be good, and then leads to villains who are villains because they force and enslave they dead, instead of working alongside them.
 

MechaTarrasque

Adventurer
I don't think the ancestors of the spirit guardian barbarian are undead, they are just looking down from Ysgard (or wherever) and intervening. Fantasy role playing doesn't always do a good job distinguishing the dead hanging around in an afterlife from undead running around the world causing trouble.

These ideas kind of remind me of the evil spirits referenced in the Tony and Anne Hillerman novels: the leftovers after your spirit passes on. I occasionally use that--after someone dies, the part of their souls that were CE go to the Abyss, LG to Mt. Celestia, LN to Mechanus, ect. If an alignment wasn't a big part of the person's life, the part of their soul becomes stuff (for example soil, a cog, or hellfire), but if it was a big part of a person's life (either by quantity or quality), that part can become an outsider. Good and neutral planes generally don't want any delays, but evil planes often let their souls run loose for a while (undead), with zombie and skeletons being animated by the small evil parts of generally nonevil souls, and intelligent undead being the big parts of evil souls.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I don't think the ancestors of the spirit guardian barbarian are undead, they are just looking down from Ysgard (or wherever) and intervening.
Yeah, the soul of an ancestor properly residing in the afterlife and occasionally looking in on his descendants is not an undead. It's more of a Outsider, and could be properly represented as one depending on the alignment of the ancestor. D&D doesn't really do animism well, despite it touching on those mythologies from time to time. So it doesn't really have a collective category for Spirits outside support from third parties.

The OP's conception of Undead is partially inspired by Late Medieval Catholicism. The ghost of someone is not actually that persons spirit returned from the afterlife or doomed to wander the Earth. The ghost of someone is an evil spirit in the form of a dead person with the purpose of tormenting and misleading the living. When exorcising a ghost, you are not actually exorcising the soul of a person, but the evil spirit that has assumed that person's appearance. This conception precludes there being anything like good undead, since regardless of whom the spirit appears to be, it's not actually got the motives that person would have. In medieval Catholicism, this would for example extend also to the idea of vampirism. The vampire was not the person who you knew in life, but an evil spirit inhabiting and defiling the body of that person, perhaps pretending to be that person to gain unwarranted sympathy, but in fact being a blasphemy against that person had they been good in life.

This conception is not mutually exclusive with the idea of ancestor spirits or other helpful spirits, but it does mean that undead are categorically different from ancestor spirits.

It is also slightly different from my campaigns conception of undead, though in my game there isn't really anything like 'good' undead either. Ancestor spirits are just that, ancestor spirits and not undead. Zombies and skeletons are just evil spirits (or really, perhaps even less than that automatons without real volition), and the soul, personality, or will of the person is not present - similar to the OP's conception. While ghosts really are the person they were in life, to be a ghost you must be either evil or at minimum temporarily insane as a result of a traumatic death. While there are ghosts that aren't fully malevolent, there are no ghosts that aren't dangerous and no good person would want anything for a ghost but it to be removed from the world and properly laid to rest. For example, a ghost of a child (typically a Poltergeist in my game) is more mischievous than malevolent, but they are in great pain, are effectively trapped in a hallucination, and even more so than a normal child are not fully aware of the consequences of their actions. No good hearted person would want anything but for them to be laid to rest, and binding a ghost into your service in both inherently cruel and heartless, and extraordinarily dangerous.
 

MarkB

Hero
Back in the 3.xe days, my own theory about the inherent evilness of undead and necromantic spells was to do with positive and negative energy. Spells which created undead or inflicted harm necromantically channeled negative energy, drawing it from the negative material plane into the prime material. This was essentially an environmental pollutant, shifting the balance of energies in the region, and the world in general, towards the negative - resulting in shorter lifespans, greater susceptibility to disease, and greater propensity for the deceased to spontaneously rise as undead.

Healing and resurrection magic, by channeling positive energy, shifted the balance in the opposite direction, with commensurate effects.

These days, I tend to de-emphasise alignment in campaigns, so I don't usually portray such things as inherently good or evil.
 

Chaosmancer

Adventurer
Yeah, "this naturally occuring energy is morally evil" is a hard sell to me. But, it depends on the nature of the campaign world I guess.
 

Minigiant

Adventurer
Cool idea. I use something similar but very different as well.

A living mortal being is a material body and a mass of spirit energy that animates it. Some beings also have souls that contains the spirit energy like a shell or casing. This soul shell is then slowly inscribes pieces of the being's mind or memories onto it as it lives. When a souled being dies, the soul unwraps and releases the spirit energy. Then it goes to ts final destination. The inscriptions on the soul help reform the dead being in its next form in the after life if it gets one.

Undead are when any of these elements (body, spirit, or soul) are artificial, unnatural, or bonded together against its will. That's what makes some of necromancy evil. You are either doing something unnatural or enslaving a soul for a longer time that is deem correct. Long enough to corupt the body, spirit, or soul as they fight to separate.

Zombies and other lesser corperal undead are bodies pumped with spirit energy. Ghouls, incorporal undead, and other moderately powered undead are corpses given rudementary soul casings. And greater undead have souls that are forgeries or forcefully bonded soul shells.
 

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