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D&D 5E PC wants to become undead

Quickleaf

Legend
My current campaign (Egyptian-themed) includes not one, but two undead PCs. I wrote an "Undead" feat for just this occasion (which also involves a dizzying array of spell immunities, beneficial spells that do not work on you, and other strangeness).

One was murdered and his patron tried to have him resurrected a day past his "expiration date", and instead he came back as a partially embalmed undead.

The other was tricked by a ghul (undead genie) into giving up his heart, which was trapped in a canopic jar, turning him into a unique type of undead.
 

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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I would encourage the player (and character) to find other avenues to immortality, personally. In my games, the PC would become an NPC as soon as they became undead. 🤷‍♂️

But for the sake of trying to be helpful, what class is the PC?

Offhand, my suggestions would be a ghast, wight, or wraith, depending on the player's goals.
1. Work with the player to come up with a new and unique undead type.
2. There are good liches in D&D and I doubt murder is part of that process. Archlich and Baelnorn are the two I know about.
 

I would come up with a quest for immortality, that does not require evil acts at all. Then along the way to the goal, confront the pc with characters that are already immortal, and their view on immortality. There is so much material here for great roleplaying.
 

Thinking a little outside the (D&D) box, in the Discworld, there is a clan of Igors. These are basically stitched together with replacement body parts (including spare hearts, etc.). It's not undead, but may still get a lot more years than those without spares.

 

Unless horribly disruptive I am generally open to trying to make the in-character goals playable in some fashion. the other PC's are also going for kinda wierd stuff. I'm ok with that stuff.
We are playing a modified Storm King's Thunder campaign.
The character build is a half gnome arcane trickster thief named Jed. So far he has mostly just been focused on throwing daggers. Only 4th level at this point.
He really isn't all that much of a power-gamer.
In all honesty I think the real-out-of-game reason that he wants to be undead is that he finds the name "Undead Jed" to be amusing. So he is developing an in-character personality reason to be an undead.
Yes, I believe he wants to keep playing the PC.

I think a rotting smelly zombie would make being a thief very difficult (but I might find it entertaining).
I think he wants to be something that he could manage to pass as a 'normal' living race unless someone looks real close.
I don't think the other players or characters would have too much of a problem with it. Although if the choice required him to kill large numbers of innocents, one of the PC's would have an issue if he finds out about it. (I thought the lich lore said you had to sacrifice massive numbers or people to the ritual. But I may be remembering a previous edition.)"
Ok, useful info.

So your world allows for some weirdness/gonzo and you're supportive of PCs achieving these kinds of things.

And you think the main reason he's doing it is for the pun of the name and the novelty of the character concept.

As long as it doesn't break the mood/theme of the game, it's certainly doable. It sounds like you want to go with a low-power template solution, like the Wildemount Hollow One or the Undead feat Quickleaf mentioned inventing.

In terms of how to implement it in fluff, I liked Quickleaf's ideas about bargaining with a supernatural (possibly also undead) power for the state, and that idea about giving up his heart/getting the Undead status as a curse. Add a couple of weaknesses, like vulnerability to Radiant damage, and maybe some penalty in sunlight, in addition to the benefits of not needing to breathe, eat or drink, and possibly not needing to sleep.

I played a Revenant character in 4th ed for a campaign, who I described as an intelligent zombie-type. It was an evil/neutral bad-guys campaign, starting at mid level, where the party were all magically bound servants of a powerful evil wizard/lich. In my background, my character was a powerful warrior who had died in an attempt to get free of the magical enslavement, and the evil wizard had raised him as undead and forced him to continue serving. So we did a lot of evil stuff as agents of the big bad, but with the overarching goal of finding magical means to free ourselves and strike him down. It was a pretty great game. From a rules perspective, we just used the rules for Revenant, which gave me some Undead traits and the ability to function (albeit at more limited capacity) below 0 HP, with feats that represented being the Goliath race in life, which gave me access to more damage-resisting powers. So he could be incredibly tough and hard to kill. That character soaked SO much damage.
 
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Al2O3

Explorer
So, it seems that WotC published a good answer in the latest Unearthed Arcana, after the last reply to this thread.


There are some partially undead lineages there, including rules for changing your original race during a campaign and possible stories for how someone got that lineage.
 


see

Pedantic Grognard
(Nevermind, I thought I was at the end of the thread, and I wasn't, issue already covered.)
 
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ElterAgo

Explorer
Just thought I'd let you folks know the direction his thoughts are currently leaning. He thinks he might try to make a deal with a vampire to turn him then release him.
 

Just thought I'd let you folks know the direction his thoughts are currently leaning. He thinks he might try to make a deal with a vampire to turn him then release him.
My caution with vampirism would be that unless he only achieves the transformation as the end of his character arc and then leaves the campaign, make sure there is group by in. Having a character who can't enter sunlight is a major limitation on everyone adventuring with him.

I'd also caution Jed that if burglary or other tresspassing is part of his thieving repertoire it's going to be hard to do that as a creature who can't enter a residence without an invitation from an occupant. Though there is certainly room for some compelling character development there.
 

Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
I'd also caution Jed that if burglary or other tresspassing is part of his thieving repertoire it's going to be hard to do that as a creature who can't enter a residence without an invitation from an occupant. Though there is certainly room for some compelling character development there.
Offer to escort bar patrons home after they had too much to drink. Try to do this for noble galas, merchant parties, &c not the corner dive or neighborhood tavern. You can pick pockets more easily if the coin purse owner is well-sauced, and if you are smooth suave debonair (plus make your Charm roll) you might get that invitation to come in the house. Prerequisite: carriage and four, with fashionable styling.
 

I've run a number of games where PCs became undead and/or immortal. The thing is, mortality is such a huge and canonical drive and characteristic of sentient experience that I sort of think it's...bad roleplaying... not to include some downside to losing it. Powerwise, it's the equivalent of maybe a magic item or two. Some thoughts about it:

* It's easy enough to create your OWN type of undead, rather than looking toward WotC to supply all the answers. Some ideas to throw around: Shriveled but preserved undead, maybe something like a mummy. Sentient zombie or skeleton-like being. Twisted, ghoul-like creature or something else that has become infected with some sort of magical disease. Non-undead ideas might be something like a sentient golem or a creature that has been transmuted into some sort of angelic being. Perhaps a god makes the PC immortal after the character performs some cosmically important service. Or agrees to everlasting servitude. Maybe even something incorporeal...but this one really needs some balancing downside (like a limited ability to affect the physical world). I think curses and blood oaths are also thematic ways to become undead.

* What sustains eternal life? Maybe the creature needs to feed in some unnatural way - like consuming flesh, blood, the hearts of the living, magic of some type. Maybe it derives its life force from the faith that endows a deific being....as long as it acts in accordance with that being's cosmic goals. Or is gifted extensions of supernatural life when it performs services for a master.

* What was the experience of becoming immortal like? How does the experience of being immortal differ from being mortal? I've tended to imagine transitioning to undeath as being traumatic in some way, and have tended to hand out compulsions, flaws, types of insanity...or offered the player a choice of such. Doesn't NEED to have any sort of mechanical penalty, but it might. Examples: Character can't feel emotion and/or/including PLEASURE any more...does not benefit from any effect that might inspire it; and suffers penalties/disadvantage on diplomacy checks that do not rely on cold, hard logic. Character feels some sort of involuntary drive that is hard to resist - to kill, feed, patrol like some ancient sentry, or something else. Character feels phantom aches an pains from when they were living; or can't get used to not breathing and has panic attacks where they feel short of breath. Character derives no joy from the world and suffers constant depression. Character suffers violent or psychotic episodes occasionally - and is prone to attacking the living when distracted. Or sometimes can't tell friend from foe for brief periods of time. Character feels like dead bodies are still alive, and possibly sometimes trying to talk to them. Character can't sleep any more whether they want to or not or suffers terrible nightmares when they do; derives reduced benefits from taking a long rest. Character (if they've gone the celestial service route) finds themselves stalking innocents, just to make sure they're safe. Or finds themselves giving away wealth and belongings to those in need if not concentrating on doing otherwise. Character becomes completely and dangerously obsessed with some course of action (kill all the West Meritorians), item ("protect the sacred MacGuffin" or "if anyone defiles this magic nail piercing my shoulder, I'll die!"), place, or person (defend my king or lost love, regardless of whether he's still alive); probably relating to how they become undead.

* Depending on the type of undeath or immortality, some sort of physical flaw, vulnerability, or limitation might also be appropriate. I've seen examples like rotting flesh brought up above. Others examples: Hunted by from time to time by holy priests / druids / fey / paladins because they've become unnatural abominations. If anything dislodges or destroys the magic nail pinning their soul into their body, they die. Magically compelled to serve a master; or may have immortality revoked if they disobey a master. Has some sort of weird rule relating to their supernatural nature like can't step on hallowed ground, or can't cross running water. Maybe they're vulnerable to worms, maggot, insect swarms. Maybe they transmit some sort of disease whether they want to or not. Maybe they look hideous without some sort of disguise. Maybe they sink in water because they no longer of buoyant flesh. Or start to fade away if they don't work toward some goal or commandment every few days. Or devolve into animalistic non-sentience if they don't feed on flesh, blood, souls, etc every so often. Maybe they feel physical pain and distress (possibly even taking damage) when something important - like innocent children, the land they're sworn to protect, or their personal treasure horde is threatened or harmed.
 
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TheSword

Legend
The reborn lineage from Unearthed Arcana has your characters answer. Have a Devil/Hag/Fey Sorceress give them a ring that will stop them from dying. Then the next time they die at sunrise the next day they return as the Reborn. Replace their existing traits with the Reborn’s traits. They had better not take the ring off. Immortality can easily be part of the gig.
 

Really, there is nothing broken about stripping the humanoid type from him and adding the undead one, and ruling he doesnt need to eat, drink, breathe or sleep anymore, and giving him immunity to poison, exhaustion and the poisoned condition, and vulnerability to radiant (to balance it out).
 

RAW, that character would then become an NPC under DM control.
No. RAW, as per the "Player Characters as Vampires note on 295 of the monster manual, "...the DM might take control of the character until the vampirism is reversed with a wish spell or the character is killed and brought back to life." It is explictly their perogative, but not a rules expectation that they will. The OP is the DM so presumably they will choose to not exercise that option if they are trying to facilitate this player's character goals.

That said I wouldn't recommend letting them become a full on vampire within the scope of a campaign. But if they want to take the first step and become vampire spawn, which gets the same huge mechanical drawbacks but not nearly the array of special abilities, that probably won't break your campaign. And then they can become the Big Bad of the next campaign set several generations later.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
It's something you need to worry about it if you are a player and I am DM.

I'm not going to allow a PC to gain that level of additional power. It spoils the game for the other players.
Yeah, but this thread isn't about you. It's about @ElterAgo and their player. So it doesn't matter what RAW is. If it did, ElterAgo wouldn't even be allowing the player the possibility in the first place.
 

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