Nothing evokes fear more certainly than the undead. Shambling from crypts, rising up from defeat, and moving once again to the slaughter, the undead are unified by the common theme of all having been once alive. This does not universally make them evil, however – some cultures around Alucinor have brought their eldest back from the dead to serve as careful adjudicators and rulers of their societies. Other cases have resulted in grave oppression from the once-living.
The more active and intelligent the undead are, the more likely they need sustenance of some kind, often from the living. Some are more creative than this, finding sustenance in other avenues that are uniquely different from what everyone knows is possible. There are four main categories of undead that have been observed upon the face of Alucinor, though one is exceedingly rare or presumably extinct entirely.
The Accidental Dead
These are the undead who were created by sheer accident, the power of their trauma of death often being so horrific that it brought them back from the grave to find some sort of revenge or purpose for what happened in life. These are the least likely to be evil, as most of them rise in service to some sort of ideal or identity intent on fixing something that went wrong with their life to cause their untimely demise. Some reanimated dead wind up becoming in this category, particularly after they break free from their mental confinement.
The spectral dead, brought back merely because they had no choice in the matter. Some ghosts are classified as haunts, forever doomed to haunt an area or an object. Some other ghosts are classified as spirits, summoned by necromancers for a particular task because they still have a fetter connecting them to this life. The worst ghosts are the ones who made deals in the After Realms to return to the world of flesh to exact revenge, often possessing someone to assist in this task.
The cannibal dead, long-lived humans mutated and warped by the depredations of areas of the Underworld, ghouls exist with a hunger for flesh and meat that exemplify the horror of being forced to do terrible things to survive. Sometimes called the calibans, the exiles, the morlocks, the underkings, or worse, all ghouls have some modicum of life left in them and some can still reproduce even after they die and come back from the grave, passing along their unique necromantic-infused traits to their children. Over time, they have stabilized and become their own distinct underclass of a race, living in the worst sewers and worst parts of the worst towns and cities. Universally spurned for being nothing more than wretches, ghouls are the ultimate underclass of malformed and hungry dead – they simply are those who were rejected by those more virtuous once upon a time and their imperfections became manifest. Some who are very superstitious consider their rise to be a sign of failing virtuousness throughout the world – but even the most hungry of the cannibals can possess a noble heart.
The walking dead, brought back to life for a purpose. King Blackthorn created masses of revenants in his zeal and lust for power, always inadvertently, as he tortured people to death and tossed their corpses out to see. In more recent days, he has taken to torching them to avoid the messy situation of them rising up and attempting to attack him. Even a paladin’s heart might be preserved through this transformation from weak, soft human into angry undead. Sometimes, a revenant is not released from his damnation even if he kills the perpetrator of his misery. Oftentimes, the imperfection to the process results in a revenant attempting to find a new obsession before he decays that much more quickly. Any race can become a revenant, but it is most common in the stubborn races, such as humans, dwarves, and minotaurs.
The Reanimated Dead
Now, all undead are reanimated dead, technically. These are those who have been purposefully created by a cleric of death, a necromancer, a warlock of the undying breath, and so on. These are the most common of the undead by far, entire legions of the once-living filling the ranks of units like this. Most of them are extremely unintelligent and barely capable of independent thought. Some rare reanimated dead are very capable of independent thought and often wind up having uniquely defining traits that set them apart from the rest of the dead.
Often called zombies, they are the most basic footsoldier and cannon fodder in the armies of the undead and the damned. Thralls are the simplest to make, requiring no special tasks to create them, and thus are the most favored of companions to necromancers. Unfortunately, they are also one of the slowest of the undead and easiest to strike down from afar. Enhanced versions of thralls or larger versions (such as brutes reanimated) are possible, but typically thralls are mass-produced and sent towards a destination. Mindless to a fault, thralls exist merely for the purpose of killing and slaughter. The most common tactic of the thrall is to lie in wait beneath the water before slowly lumbering forth to attack.
Often called the osseous, they are the second most common footsoldier and cannon fodder. Quick and deadly, skeletons are unfortunately also the weakest physically of the entirety of the undead. One decisive strike can cause the magic keeping a skeleton animate to come crashing down around them. Nevertheless, they are used regularly after thralls have been hacked to pieces.
Faster, more dangerous undead. They can paralyze targets with a sweep of their fists or nails, striking down commoners easily. They are most dangerous in groups pursuing a lone target, as one swipe frees them up to being pummeled to death by the angry dead. They require fresher corpses typically, though other forms of ghasts exist that are older. They occasionally betray some sort of memory of their past life, though this is rare. They are usually employed when attacking more defenseless groups of people, due to their paralytic ability.
Mistakenly associated with the draining of life, wights are bloated and putrescent corpses that are swelling slowly with gasses and necromantic energies beneath their skin. Hearing a wight’s roar is cause for alarm, as when one roars they frequently are about to explode. A wight’s purpose is to stagger to a location and detonate itself in a surprisingly potent eruption of gore, gasses, and energies. It frequently takes time to ‘season’ a wight into being, though more and more often necromantic studies have advanced further to be able to mass-produce wights much more rapidly.
A murderous merging of broken bits of skeleton and spirit, the hollows are just that – soulless malformations that hover along the ground slowly, consisting of a skeletal torso that carries often javelins, but they might carry bows or other ranged weapons. Given that they hover, they ignore impassable terrain and float over water very easily.
Where ghosts and wraiths are accidental and schemed respectively, the spectre is a reanimation of the spirit. Dragging a soul kicking and screaming back into our reality as a permanent servant renders them a bit mad or mindless in the transition, creating a great spectral being devoted to fighting for their master. Spectres are difficult to kill and difficult to make, as their tether to this world is incredibly difficult to maintain.
So named for being first created in the Stygian Abyss, the practice has moved aboveground. They look all the world like merely animated suits of armor, but where that resemblance ends necromancy begins. They are infused with a fragment of the soul of the dead, bringing life and service to their special armor. They always are a suit of full plate armor that is incredibly impervious to arrow attacks, making archers pale at the sight of them when they appear.
Only created from murderers and psychopaths, the mohrg resembles all the world a skeleton – but with vile, writhing pulpy mass contained within its ribcage and pelvic and twisted about its limbs to keep it upright. They are able to paralyze with a touch and frighten even the most staunch battle-hardened warriors with their wail. They are devastating on the battlefield, always possessing the mindset of a gleeful killer and often some remnants of the personality of their past life.
The Schemed Dead
These are those creations and creatures that had a very purposeful creation. Vampires who created another of their kind fill this category, as do liches who create phylacteries and mummies who are entombed. Some kind of care or true investment had to happen to create undead of this category – they are not randomly spawned out of a mere energy attack or bloodsucking, some investiture necessary before they began to walk again.
Necromancers who want to unnaturally prolong their lives inevitably become liches. They have phylacteries which store their essence in the case of the death of their bodies, permitting them to be reformed some time later, depending on how powerful the liche in question is. Cunning and with an intelligence that goes beyond the norm, liches take the long view in existence, shaping entire continents gently over time until they might dominate and control political situations. In some cases, a liche is made of someone who was not a wizard in life but someone belonging to another profession. Anyone can technically perform the rituals. As the centuries have dragged on since the first liches survived the Armageddon spell cast by Zog, liches who are capable at more than wizardry have become increasingly common.
Aram-dol lives near Serpent’s Fang Keep in the Underworld beneath Serpent Isle to this day, harassing that bastion of Order. It is said he has an imprisoned and trapped dragon within his lair that he utilizes as a pawn as others might utilize common men. He is known for testing intruders with puzzles that are both deadly and frightening, resulting in many an adventurer dying horrifically before facing him and risking becoming part of his undead army.
Horance, the owner of the Well of Souls, used a great alchemical apparatus to completely destroy the city of Desolis in Novia, giving it the name it bears today. Now his city is a city of ghosts, all at his service and calling, the wizened yet kindly looking older man enjoying the pretense of pretending to live a life normally with everyone in the city beneath his icy reign.
Lethe, Morphius, and Umbria are the trio of liches that reside in the Tomb of Praecor Loth in Rhiannon. Lethe was the war-leader of the armies of Rhiannon, Morphius was the personal assassin of King Praecor Loth, and Umbria was the court magician in his service. Alone, they are terrifying in battle. Together, they unite in common purpose to defend the burial place of Praecor Loth with an intense fury.
Extremely commonplace in locales like Atarka, Balema, or the Serpent Isle, mummies are created through long, elaborate rites. They do not spontaneously come into being and often require the assistance of a cult in order to create one. However, there are two grievously different power levels of mummies. The common mummy evolves slowly in power and tends to be the servant of either a higher power or a higher purpose, sometimes created to serve a particular empire. Mummy lords, the most powerful of mummies, are on par with liches for the destruction and fury they might cause with their very existence. Mummies commonly spread rot and disease with but a touch.
Uro is the silent ruler of much of the trackless desert of Atarka – an empire of sand and lack of resources. His homeland had been devastated by horrid magics that leeched the life from the very soil and left his mummified body wrapped in necromantic energy, forcing him to rise from the grave and look over the empire he once ruled in life as nothing more than a blighted land.
Often mistaken for being alive and not a member of the undead, vampires are created through ritual, much like the other undead listed here, but every vampire comes into being able to create another vampire. Vampires that have yet to mature into full vampires are referred to as fledgling vampires, sometimes so primitive in their responses during their period of hungers that they may as well be swift thralls charging into battle. As a vampire matures, however, they become creatures of habit, the night, and frightening powers. They are able to transform into a bat or swarm of bats, into dire wolves, into gaseous forms, and many other potential powers. All vampires hunger for blood.
Vasculio was a researcher in Moonshade upon the Serpent Isle, studying the means of causing death. He found a place beneath the Skullcrusher mountains that was rich in the mineral known as stoneheart, a stone often associated with creating vampires through magical means. He utilized the stoneheart to create bloodspawn, soaked in a bath of the reagent, and became one of the blood-craving undead. He is a powerful necromancer known for stealing apprentices and infesting them with the dread powers of the vampires.
Some do not want their bodies to endure onward after death. Wraiths are an example of someone intentionally tethering their soul to this world after death. They often possess bodies of the living and the dead, but revel in their spectral powers. Some are religious in nature, but this is becoming more and more uncommon. They have a fetter that anchors them to this world, sometimes multiple.
Khumash-Gor, a great Zealan warrior of Morgaelin, led a campaign of conquest which ultimately consolidated the various squabbling peoples of Morgaelin under his rule. This act earned him acclaim from man and god alike, and after his eventual assassination, his remains were interred alongside the Shrine of the Ancient Ones. His wraith came to exist as a result of his fury, his preparations, and his need to rule Morgaelin for all eternity. Sadly, he had been entombed properly, and desires to break free of his imprisonment.
The Putrescent Dead
Rare, considered extinct. These are the undead created by a sweeping disease that infects and changes those touched by it. Now spoken only in fairy tales, these beings are a horror once they appear as they cannot be stopped through normal means – loved ones turning into monsters as readily as enemies might until there is nothing but a wall of the damned striking at you.
It is often said that the Armageddon spell had been used once before in history to destroy a disease that created a massive wave of monsters and undead to appear throughout the lands. Some say that is what Zog did, as the Dragon Kings had become horrifying diseased monsters.
In the Realm of Legends, Minax had successfully crafted a disease capable of this. Thankfully, the Avatar of Realms sealed the Realm of Legends and the horrific disease with it.
Rumor has it that such a disease has erupted in The Solian Lands, referred to as the Blight. The wizard Alvirex is seeking a way to reverse the Blight and save those lands from the Blight’s spread.