The undead are creatures who have died, but are subsequently re-animated by dark forces in a liminal state. They take a variety of forms. Many are malevolent and evil.
Some undead are soulless corpses, while others are disembodied spirits. What all undead have in common, however, is that the normal relationship between body and soul has been perverted. This perversion is held in place by a necromantic, magical force.
In animated undead, this magic allows a corpse to move as if it had a soul. In undead spirits, it anchors a soul to the physical world, giving it partial substance in place of a body. And in greater undead it replaces the usual link between body and soul with an artificial, immortal one.
If the retaining power of the necromantic force is interrupted, both body and soul will quickly dissipate. Exorcism, including the disruptive spells used by priests, functions by attacking the binding force rather than the undead creature itself.
On the other hand, this force renders many normally important functions of the living body irrelevant. Undead suffer virtually no effects from aging, hunger, poison, extreme cold, and mind-affecting agents.
A dead creature can come to be imbued with this necromantic force in several ways.
- Necromancers, evil priests, and greater undead will often use powerful magic spells to generate undead. Note that this is the only way vampires and liches can be created.
- Traumatic death, in which spirits are not allowed to depart from their bodies peacefully, can result in the creation of ghosts.
- Finally, an area which is permeated with evil magic may automatically entangle fresh bodies and souls with the necromantic force.
Undead creatures are most commonly made from humans and Vahnatai. Slithzerikai, nephilim and nepharim are also typical choices. Interestingly, neither the less intelligent humanoids (giants, troglodytes, and goblins) nor intelligent, magical creatures (such as drakes and aranea) are ever used for this purpose.
Types of Undead
Skeletons and Zombies
The simplest, weakest, and most numerous undead creatures, skeletons and zombies are commonly created in large numbers by megalomanaical wizards and liches. All that is needed for their creation is a supply of corpses. The recently deceased become zombies, rotting, staggering mounds of flesh. Those bodies that have already rotted away are animated as skeletons.
Both varieties are soulless, mindless automatons. If they are not controlled by a master, they will wander aimlessly. Contrary to popular belief, they are not inherently evil, and will not attack living things without the influence of an evil force. Attempts have even been made to domesticate the creatures, at Northpoint Lighthouse.
Because of their simplicity, skeletons and zombies are often subjected to magical augmentation, resulting in such creatures as the ruby skeleton and slime zombie.
Vahnavoi are a special form of skeleton created when a Vahnatai warrior is animated. The spiritual energy the Vahnatai put into his training is perverted into an unnatural strength, resilience, and desire to kill.
When a person dies, his body no longer anchors his soul to the physical world. Normally, the soul simply departs. Rarely, however, a great force can cause the soul to remain in the form of a ghost. Ghosts have typically suffered extremely painful deaths at the hands of powerful beings, such as demons, and feel wronged. They will often linger until they are able to obtain revenge or correct a wrong. When they have been satisfied and are at peace, they fade away and the soul departs.
Ghosts have a weak and insubstantial physical form. However, they are one of the few lesser undead with the ability to talk. When pressed, they can also instill fear in the living. Ghosts are not evil, but are usually wracked with sadness.
Shades, Spirits and Devas
Shades are spirits who have been summoned to do the bidding of a master, usually a priest. As with skeletons and zombies, their actions depend entirely on what they are commanded to do. Shades are more graceful than walking corpses, however, and are sometimes employed as servants by librarians and by the very rich.
The aptly-named spirits are merely shades with a decent competency in mage spells. They are spellcasters who are often used as guards, due to their tendency to summon large numbers of small monsters, which delay intruders until their masters arrive. Spirits also possess a degree of control over animated undead and other spirits and can often be found leading a band of undead.
Devas, similarly, are shades with the ability to cast priest spells. They are often employed in battle by priests, and have been known to lead an entire retinue of shades into the fray.
Ghouls, Ghasts and Wights
Ghouls and ghasts are less insubstantial than ghosts and shades. These vicious, malevolent spirits have a strong physical presence. They are queer, deformed humanoids, with unusual coloration. They attack living creatures on sight, tearing into them quickly and savagely with their claws. The touch of a ghoul or a ghast drains energy, making the victim slow down considerably. Ghasts are larger and stronger than ghouls.
The most fearful member of the ghoul family is the quickghast. Quickghasts are a particularly dangerous variety of ghast. They move at several times the speed of a normal person, and are capable of carving up a lot of flesh in an instant, while keeping their victim all but paralyzed.
Their cousin is the wight, whose claws suck the life out of all living things. Wights have to power to eliminate a victim's memories and skills. Neither ghasts nor wights have a particularly strong physical form, but in groups they can be devastating.
The most powerful of the spirits, spectres are vicious, intelligent undead with a great hatred of the living. They take pleasure in the dismemberment of flesh, and often appear wielding a scythe. Their touch radiates a deep chill that drains life in a similar way as a wight's touch.
More powerful spectres have a respectable command of magic as well as the ability to command lesser undead. Much like vampires and liches, they are often the master of a crypt, and rarely cooperate with other intelligent undead. For that reason, they are often classified as a greater undead creature. However, the spectre does not have a real, corporeal body, although its spiritual form is easily the most robust of all the spirits.
Similar to the Vahnavoi, a Hraithe is the spirit of a Vahnatai mage that is reluctant to depart from the world. While it retains most of the magical abilities that it had in life, the spiritual energy with which it pursued its craft becomes instead the source of a jealous loathing for all living things.
In order for a person to become a vampire, the creature must suffer a lethal bite from the fangs of another vampire. Vampires retain their memories, personality, and physical form, but gain the usual undead immunity to mortal concerns such as aging and cold. Vampires are closely associated with bats in some regions, but it is not known if this close relationship is simply folklore or has an actual foundation in truth.
It is known that Vampires do not suffer any particular weakness to wooden stakes, a common delusion among the peasantry. However, vampires are vulnerable to Undead-turning spells. Vampires are also highly harmed by Sunlight due to their enhanced senses: the Sun tends to make their vision too sharp for young vampires. For this reason, they generally rest during the day and conduct most of their activities at night. Vampires can regain vitality by draining it from others, preferably in the form of blood. When that is not possible, they can drain life through a chill touch similar to that of a spectre. Certain types of vampires are said to be able to feed off psychic energies of creatures directly. Vampires are distinguished from humans and other Undead by their distinctive fangs, which can be up to two times as long as corresponding teeth in humans. The fangs are hollow and can be used by a capable vampire to suck a human dry in as little as a few minutes. Vampires are also know for their unnatural paleness, caused by the conversion of blood into pure vitality.
Vampires tend to be highly civilized creatures. With their physical needs satisfied, they move on to more scholarly pursuits. Many choose to study magic and unholy arts, while others are motivated to do so by a desire to learn how to maintain and augment their body. Some may also study culture, and may have excessive amounts of their homes devoted to history and philosophy, especially pertaining to thoughts about the afterlife.
Most vampires are solitary, and will indeed go to great lengths in order to avoid contact with other creatures altogether. However, powerful vampires may occasionally take consorts, oftentimes in the form of other individuals who have turned into vampires. There are few occasions when vampires desire to simply live out their eternal life in peace and seclusion, or at least restrict their schemes and machinations to clandenstine operations. On rare occasions some vampires develop a further mutation upon their transformation into unlife. The mutations can range from absolute control over other nearby undead to incredibly powerful psychic abilities such as mind reading and divination.
A lich is an exceptionally powerful undead that is created in a necromantic ritual - often performed on a still living creature. Dead creatures can also be turned into liches, but this process grows more difficult the longer the person has been dead. The record for the longest known time between a lich's death and their raising is held by Anastasia, who was slain in 817 IE and animated six years later. Delaying this long does not diminish the power of the lich, but it could drive them mad if their memories have faded too much.
Like vampires and other greater undead, the lich retains all memories and personal traits of their mortal life. Enjoying an immortal lifespan, they also turn to magic or lore to keep them occupied, and some of them collect hoards of treasure. Unlike vampires, who are loyal to nobody unless it suits them, liches can be charged with a task that they will faithfully fulfil. Notably, this is a voluntary agreement on the part of the lich; they cannot be made to do what they do not want to.
As recently as a century ago, it was not uncommon to raise powerful liches as guardians. The most famous of these is probably Prince Hrothar, who died in the Battle against Grah-Hoth and was revived to watch over the demon's prison. With the general ban on the practice of necromancy, this custom has fallen into disuse since then.