To continue with my previous post about how I run various types of monsters I thought I would continue with the undead, as I find they are also under utilized. Currently I find undead fall into two categories, mindless and low level or highly intelligent and high (or at least mid level). But if you've seen a lot of fantasy movies the undead can be low level and weak but also of average or slightly below intelligence (such as the last unicorn).
Now the mindless zombie swarm has its point, but I also don't feel like needing 50 types of undead that all look the same: like dead people.
So I have only two types of undead: corporeal and incorporeal. Any skeleton, zombie, lich, wight or death knight is a corporeal undead, with different class levels and levels of intelligence. The extra flesh on a zombie would simply count as padded armour, the dried skin on an undead bog person might count as leather. The real variation comes in terms of intelligence and motivation. A skeleton may be a mindless puppet to a necromancer, or might be fully intelligent.
When undead are created by magic they have a chance of coming back as free willed (potentially unbeknown to the caster). A d20 is rolled, if this is less than their level (in life) x the number of milestones they have passed, they become free willed. A level 0 character thus has 0% chance, a level 1 character comes back on a roll of 1, a level 5 on 5 or less, a level 6 character comes back on a 12 or less. An undead with levels will keep their intelligence, class and levels (including luck points).
Non corporeal undead (ghosts, wraiths, spectres, shades, banshees) all work much the same, there are some tweaks depending on the exact spells used to raise the dead as well, they may take damage in sunlight for example.
I like this because it allows the use of undead (including as mindless bad guys you don't have to feel bad about slaughtering), while keeping the option for puzzles, negotiations and deals with the undead. As with the video above, maybe they just want some wine to try and remember what it was like to be alive?
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