Why the Undead?

So far in this blog there have been basically three types of Monsters posted: Humanoids, Giant Animals, and The Undead.  With the undead finally running dry it’s time to move on to some new categories, but first, an overarching discussion of the Undead in Mind Weave.

Why the Undead?

SkeletonUndead are a convenient foe.  Players don’t think twice about killing most undead (everyone loves bashing up some skellies). There are several reasons why we feel little compunction about killing the undead. First, they are already dead, all we’re doing is returning them to a natural state, right? Second, they are pure evil and exist only to kill. Who are we hurting by taking out these killing machines? It’s usually a simple choice. Third, the undead tend to come in hordes of manageable enemies, allowing us to feel god-like as we hack through dozens of decomposing foes who will never break and run.

ZombieThe undead can also be a more serious enemy.  They are us.  If portrayed correctly, the undead represent people who the PCs and NPCs have known and loved. Who wouldn’t hesitate to kill their zombified wife or father? Who wouldn’t cringe back in fear when they aren’t phased at all by wounds inflicted on them? When facing skeletons wearing their own colors, NPC soldiers can be expected to take a hit to their morale, or to recoil in disgust.  When a four armed, painless, decomposing barbarian from an allied tribe rushes the lines, panic is expected to ensue.  It can be heart-wrenching for the PCs to have to fight DeathKnighta respected paladin NPC now upon a skeletal steed, his family crest already fading from his shield. Liches and Vampires make highly imposing foes, representing our fears and vices, immortal and ancient.

Depending on how they are used, the undead can be a faceless, lifeless, guiltless foe or an emotionally powerful enemy. Because the undead are so flexible as a monster, they are a good place to start when preparing monsters.  Since they are inherently derived from the living, they are also easy to build and develop.

Mind Weave Undead

Mind Weave undead come in basically three kinds: the created undead, the feral undead, and the sentient undead, in order of increasing agency.

Created Undead

Created undead (also known as animated undead) can only come into being through the Animate Dead ability.  Because they do not occur in nature, created undead can be quite rare, but when they are encountered, it is often in great numbers.  Very few necromancers stop at 5 or 6 undead.  When a party encounters created undead, they can be sure that a necromancer, or at least a Dead Lord, is not far away.

Created undead take a form dependent on their class at the time of death.

Feral Undead

GhostsFeral Undead (also known as called undead) are the dead who rise out of restlessness and malice. They are not inherently under the command of a necromancer, but can be brought into a necromancer’s service through the Call Undead ability.

Feral undead come from people who die violently or under strange circumstances.  They tend to be malicious or vengeful either due to their character in life or the conditions of their demise.  Their minds are gone and they go about in a deranged state of confusion. Unless otherwise commanded by a necromancer to which they are bound, feral undead generally attack on sight and will actively seek out the living in an effort to take their life from them.  Feral undead include ghosts, ghoulsshadows, and specters, though Dead Lords can also become feral if their necromancer dies.

Sentient Undead

LichSentient Undead are undead that retain their agency and sense of self. In most ways they continue to behave like the living. Though they have lost their mortality and their warmth of life, sentient undead are still able to reason, to negotiate, and to progress in much the same way that living humanoids do.

Sentient undead include liches and vampires. Liches become undead of their own volition.  The represent a fear of death and selfishness, preserving themselves and increasing their power by stealing the souls of others.  Vampires have their condition inflicted on them, even if it is willingly.  They can continue to level like any other character, but it may be harder for them with a higher effective level that is not very well matched by their new vampiric abilities.

What do you think of the Mind Weave undead?  Would you make them a part of your campaign?  What kinds of monsters to you prefer? Let us know in the comments below.

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2 Responses to Why the Undead?

  1. lucyfalls says:

    So you’re making an RPG? Very interesting blog subject! And great treatment of issues surrounding undead monsters. Personally, I find undead NPCs often add a lot to games because they have a different perspective than living NPCs (and often have a good story to tell about how they ended up un/dead!) I would love to have a sentient undead follower in an RPG. (Like Raul, the ghoul follower available in Fallout: New Vegas – loved that guy! (I don’t think he was techinally undead, but he looked like it!))

    • jameseck says:

      Thanks for the comment! Some of our testers are toying with the idea of becoming sentient undead as PCs. The way our main test campaign uses undead is to show how terrorized the setting has been, but it also means they can be destroyed without remorse, though metal men are beginning to fill that role. Soon we’ll see them going up against other humanoids, though. Not sure how they’ll handle it.

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