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D&D 5E Living vs dead vs undead

Li Shenron

Legend
Does 5e ruleset define living, dead and undead as mutually exclusive?

This is a bit of theoretical curiosity since I don't have any trouble at hand to manage, but I am sure it can have some practical consequences.

Narratively speaking, it's normally not a problem to say that an undead is neither living nor dead. But as soon as you have an ability, spell, magic item or whatever, which affects a 'living' creature or a 'dead' creature differently, without specifying how it works on undead, you might need a consistent rule to apply.

Additionally, when an undead creature is 'killed' in combat, does it become 'dead'? Does it remain 'undead'? Both?
 

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AtomicPope

Adventurer
Does 5e ruleset define living, dead and undead as mutually exclusive?
Undead is a creature type.
Living and dead are defined on page 196-198 of the Player's Handbook. Monsters die instantly when they reach 0 hit points (page 198).

Narratively speaking, it's normally not a problem to say that an undead is neither living nor dead. But as soon as you have an ability, spell, magic item or whatever, which affects a 'living' creature or a 'dead' creature differently, without specifying how it works on undead, you might need a consistent rule to apply.

Additionally, when an undead creature is 'killed' in combat, does it become 'dead'? Does it remain 'undead'? Both?
In previous editions, creatures that were never living didn't "die" but instead they were "destroyed." In this edition, creatures "die" whether or not they were ever alive.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
5e is really not prescriptive about all this. Even the "fact" that monsters (therefore including undead monsters) "die" at 0 hp is not a rule, just the way "most DMs" deal with it: "Most DMs have a monster die the instant it drops to 0 hit points, rather than having it fall unconscious and make death saving throws."

Also, the "undead" monster type is just a general tag for the effect of some spells and powers, it's not like it was in 3e, a kind of "template" for having a number of inherent powers and characteristics.

This is the 5e way, the perspective is that there is no need of rules, just local rulings for specific monsters, leaving the DM free to do whatever he feels is good for a particular situation in the adventure. You are therefore free to have undead brought to 0 hp being totally destroyed, temporarily deactivated, free to be raised again or animated again - or not, etc... You don't need a general rule, just think how a specific monster would behave. And you can have undeads, living deads, unlivings, animated deads, etc. and to surprise your players each time with a new situation that will amaze them (and that will require clever "in the game world" thinking rather than metagaming).
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
Experiment at the school of Applied Necromancy: "today students, you'll be provided with one fresh corpse each. You'll have yo cast Animate Objects on it, then Animate Dead, then kill it and cast the same spells again on its remains. Note the results each time and deduce whether a corpse is an object, an undead corpse is still an object and whether one can be reanimated again". In gam world thinking is fun but player knowledge is usually much lower than character knowledge depending on topic.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Undead is a creature type.
Living and dead are defined on page 196-198 of the Player's Handbook.
"Dead" is sort of defined on those pages (at least, in the sense that it explains a common way to achieve the state of being dead). "Living" is not defined there at all that I can see.

To the OP--as far as game mechanics go, I regard "death" as "transitioning to the state of being dead." If you destroy an undead creature, that counts; it wasn't dead, and now it is*. I say "living" refers to any creature which is not a construct or an undead.

Are there any particular spells or items you have in mind which specify one effect for living targets and another for dead ones?

*However, there is a quirk around this: Suppose Joe Fighter dies on Tuesday, gets zombified, and then the zombie is slain on Wednesday. What is the status of the resulting corpse? Is it the corpse of an undead creature which died on Wednesday, or the corpse of a humanoid which died on Tuesday? I'm inclined to say "humanoid/Tuesday," but you could argue either way. If you care about Jeremy Crawford's opinion, he seems to take the "undead/Wednesday" interpretation.
 
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Voadam

Legend
In the MM on page 7 under Type it defines undead as "Undead are once-living creatures brought to a horrifying state of undeath through the practice of necromantic magic or some unholy curse. Undead include walking corpses, such as vampires and zombies, as well as bodiless spirits, such as ghosts and specters."

Once-living sounds incompatible with being considered living. Creatures includes both living and undead creatures.
 

aco175

Legend
Living and dead are defined on page 196-198 of the Player's Handbook. Monsters die instantly when they reach 0 hit points (page 198).
This is why I should read the new editions instead of just skim them. I sometimes have a monster cleric cast mass cures and have several of the killed monsters rise like they are PCs. I'll likely still have this behave the same. I would never track the death saves, but just roll a d6 or whatever and have some of the closest rise. Although by the time the PCs run into monsters that can do this, the monsters that get back up are like 4e minions with one hit to kill them again.
 

Dausuul

Legend
This is why I should read the new editions instead of just skim them. I sometimes have a monster cleric cast mass cures and have several of the killed monsters rise like they are PCs. I'll likely still have this behave the same. I would never track the death saves, but just roll a d6 or whatever and have some of the closest rise. Although by the time the PCs run into monsters that can do this, the monsters that get back up are like 4e minions with one hit to kill them again.
What you're doing is perfectly consistent with the rules. Having monsters die instantly at 0 is not a rule; it's just called out as something "most DMs" do. Clearly you are not most DMs. :)
 

Someone may have already pointed it out, but the three states are definitely treated differently in 5e.
Also, dead aka corpses are now considered "objects" which leads to a lot of restrictions on spells that can be cast on a corpse.

Revivify cast on an inert "Undead" does not bring the target back to "living", but brings back an Undead. Revivify cast per the spell on a "Dead" target brings back a "living" creature.

Bottom line, if I as an DM have my evil Necromancer NPC cast "Animate Dead" on an NPC that has failed his death saves, well, that char is EXTREMELY unlikely to be coming back to the game. Same goes for a char killed by a Shadow, or a few other nasties.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
This is why I should read the new editions instead of just skim them. I sometimes have a monster cleric cast mass cures and have several of the killed monsters rise like they are PCs. I'll likely still have this behave the same. I would never track the death saves, but just roll a d6 or whatever and have some of the closest rise. Although by the time the PCs run into monsters that can do this, the monsters that get back up are like 4e minions with one hit to kill them again.
You are not doing anything wrong
 

Li Shenron

Legend
Are there any particular spells or items you have in mind which specify one effect for living targets and another for dead ones?
Not exactly but I was just checking True Resurrection. Say you meet the ghost of a person who died more than 200 years ago, the ghost "dies" (drops to 0hp) in battle. Can you true-resurrect the original person because the ghost "died" a short time ago, or not because the original person really died more than 200 years ago?
 

Voadam

Legend
5e PH Page 198 for reference.

MONSTERS AND DEATH
Most DMs have a monster die the instant it drops to 0 hit points, rather than having it fall unconscious and make death saving throws.
Mighty villains and special nonplayer characters are common exceptions; the DM might have them fall unconscious and follow the same rules as player characters.
KNOCKING A CREATURE OUT
Sometimes an attacker wants to incapacitate a foe, rather than deal a killing blow. When an attacker reduces a creature to 0 hit points with a melee attack, the attacker can knock the creature out. The attacker can make this choice the instant the damage is dealt. The creature falls unconscious and is stable.
 

Not exactly but I was just checking True Resurrection. Say you meet the ghost of a person who died more than 200 years ago, the ghost "dies" (drops to 0hp) in battle. Can you true-resurrect the original person because the ghost "died" a short time ago, or not because the original person really died more than 200 years ago?
Nope. Though that spell checks many of the boxes that would allow it, the "more than 200 years" condition kicks in.
 

What about reincarnation? The target there is a dead humanoid. So ghosts (incorporeal creatures) and undead don't apply? (excluding the dead on Tuesday/Wednesday possibilities)
 


Voadam

Legend
Not exactly but I was just checking True Resurrection. Say you meet the ghost of a person who died more than 200 years ago, the ghost "dies" (drops to 0hp) in battle. Can you true-resurrect the original person because the ghost "died" a short time ago, or not because the original person really died more than 200 years ago?
True resurrection has some odd wording. If you kill an undead creature you can resurrect it within 200 years of the time it died, and it comes back restored to its non-undead form.

I think the intent would be for the original creature death, but the wording seems to me to be RAW the undead creature death bringing back the undead creature but with the twist of the non-undead form.

TRUE RESURRECTION
9th-level necromancy
Casting Time: 1 hour
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M (a sprinkle of holy water and diamonds worth at least 25,000 gp, which the spell consumes)
Duration: Instantaneous
You touch a creature that has been dead for no longer than 200 years and that died for any reason except old age. If the creature's soul is free and willing, the creature is restored to life with all its hit points. This spell closes all wounds, neutralizes any poison, cures all diseases, and lifts any curses affecting the creature when it died. The spell replaces damaged or missing organs and limbs. If the creature was undead, it is restored to its non-undead form.
The spell can even provide a new body if the original no longer exists, in which case you must speak the creature's name. The creature then appears in an unoccupied space you choose within 10 feet of you.

It is an oddity in a narrative sense that undeath would work as a preservative for purposes of True Resurrection though.

This means Merlin should secretly animate King Arthur's fallen body as a zombie in order for Arthur to be true resurrected in the far future to meet England's greatest need.
 
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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Does 5e ruleset define living, dead and undead as mutually exclusive?
The 5e rules use the natural language philosophy. How the words are used naturally holds sway, so if you went to a stranger on the street and asked this question, what would the answer be? They'd say that you cannot be living and dead at the same time, and if they knew about undead, they'd say that undead was neither living, nor dead. That means that they are all mutually exclusive by how 5e works.

You could of course make it different for your game.
This is a bit of theoretical curiosity since I don't have any trouble at hand to manage, but I am sure it can have some practical consequences.

Narratively speaking, it's normally not a problem to say that an undead is neither living nor dead. But as soon as you have an ability, spell, magic item or whatever, which affects a 'living' creature or a 'dead' creature differently, without specifying how it works on undead, you might need a consistent rule to apply.
You'd have to make the call as DM. Rulings over rules. ;)
Additionally, when an undead creature is 'killed' in combat, does it become 'dead'? Does it remain 'undead'? Both?
I've been playing D&D since 1983 and I've never seen or heard of anyone who didn't treat an undead as dead after it was "killed."
 

Redwizard007

Explorer
The 5e rules use the natural language philosophy. How the words are used naturally holds sway, so if you went to a stranger on the street and asked this question, what would the answer be? They'd say that you cannot be living and dead at the same time, and if they knew about undead, they'd say that undead was neither living, nor dead. That means that they are all mutually exclusive by how 5e works.

You could of course make it different for your game.

You'd have to make the call as DM. Rulings over rules. ;)

I've been playing D&D since 1983 and I've never seen or heard of anyone who didn't treat an undead as dead after it was "killed."
I think that most people would say that undead is dead. Dead = not alive.

Undead is just dead but animated by ________. A zombie's time of death was when it stopped being a person. Same for every other form of undead. No reason to think undeath resets the clock, so to speak, for spells returning life to a target.
 

Galandris

Foggy Bottom Campaign Setting Fan
I also would say that that a zombie is, in natural language an animated cadaver. Si actually a dead. Zombie films speaks about the dead rising and eating brains, not the "not quite dead".

Natural language is a language everyone thinks he speaks, despite being unable to convey his ideas, while having the illusion of doing do.
 
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Lyxen

Great Old One
I've been playing D&D since 1983 and I've never seen or heard of anyone who didn't treat an undead as dead after it was "killed."

While I think I have about the same experience (I still think that there have been a number of cases where it was borderline), there is one thing linked to this that I also have seen consistently, that once someone has become an undead and then died as an undead, he could not become undead again (at least not without going through a "living" phase again). In a sense, he was "deader than dead", although he could be be brought back to life (and then possibly raised as an undead if killed again).

This held true (with possibly variations) for intelligent undead as well as for mindless ones like zombies and skeletons. However, the restriction did of course not hold when using higher/different magic such as wishes/miracles, which could bring a dead undead back to undeath. :)

What is fascinating is the number of possibilities here if you want to be creative, and I love putting this kind of situation in the hands of the players at our tables, they always come up with innovative ways to make the situation even more complex and the intrigues even more enjoyable.
 

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