A Treatise on Undead | by the Black Circle Wizards Guild 

Topics Covered | Introduction | Energy Source | Sentience | Morality (Alignment) | Advantages | Uses | Agriculture | Military | Miscellaneous | Alternatives | Mini-Golems | Pricing | Spellwork | Commentary


This text is meant to be a brief summary of various facts and observations related to undead creatures. The primary focus is the group commonly referred to as 'lesser undead', generally including skeletons and zombies and possibly others not possessing any reasoning ability of their own. The purpose is to review and highlight some of the observations that may not have come to light without some extensive study of such creatures. Some familiarity of the nature and existence of various forms of readily creatable undead is assumed to be possessed by the reader.

Energy Source

Undead derive their energy source typically from the negative material plane. Often, even noted scholars consider the negative material plane analogous with the demi-plane of dread. As any one observant would note, they are not the same, as is evidenced by the clearly different nomenclature ('plane' vs 'demi-plane'). Misconceptions aside, it is this negative energy which is called up and controlled by the caster in order to instill the target remains with some semblance of life. Due to the negative nature of this energy, all undead will typically be detected as being evil, even in the lack of the required mental abilities to reason an evil act. Also, since negative energy is the antithesis of the 'normal' positive energy which flows through out world, undead are typically able to sense positive energy based creatures to one degree or another. The distance of this sense has been hard to consistently measure but seems to be similar to the range of normal sight under dim lighting, and even further the stronger the creature's link with the negative material plane (read more powerful).


Generally speaking the typical 'lesser undead' which are relatively easy to create, are non-intelligent, and incapable of making decisions or deductive reasoning. They will follow instructions to the letter. For example, if one were to command a skeleton (assuming of course circumstances which would allow one to have command over said skeleton) to walk forward, it would do so, even if that meant it would walk over a cliff and be broken into pieces and destroyed. They are incapable of deductive reasoning of any kind.


It is this group of undead which are not, and arguably cannot, by their very nature and lack of intellect, be considered evil, in the moral sense, even though spells meant to detect such things would normally register them as such. Undead of a 'higher' form, which can make decisions on their own , and may or may not be subject to being commanded by anyone, are almost invariably evil, both in nature and thought. In the event that you could coerce these creatures into doing your bidding or tasks, collaboration alone would be deemed by many as an evil act. It is our advice to proceed with extreme caution in such dealings, not only as regards to the trustworthiness (or lack thereof) of such entities, but for the possible societal ramifications which would ensue should word get out.


It is this very same lack of intellect and lack of morality (Note: amoral does not equal immoral), which can make the various types of 'lesser' undead well suited to certain tasks and duties. The non-thinking mind is not capable of forming thoughts of revolt or resistance, or protesting wages, or standing on moral grounds. Also, there are many duties which would be considered unsafe for valued persons to perform, and for these also, lesser undead are often ideal. All the above focuses on the benefits and uses of lesser undead from a mental perspective. The benefits form a physical perspective are equally as lengthy, if not more so. The lesser undead make ideal laborers so long as the task is simple. They will never tire. They need no food. They can withstand most any temperatures, effectively ignoring the elements of weather. They need no water and are immune to disease. They do not need to breath and can thus work amidst deadly gases or even underwater. They are moderately strong, being approximately equivalent to a healthy adult human male in strength.


One can easily infer from the extensive list of advantages for undead the countless way they could be put to good use, some of which follow.


Planting fields
Harvesting fields
Digging irrigation channels
Herding/Shepherd *
Powering grain mills

* Undead are especially well suited to shepherd domestic animals as their link with the negative material plane causes an automatic uneasiness in normal animals, and they will shy away and avoid the undead if at all possible.


Siege Warfare
Crew on heavy equipment (i.e. expendable)
Spies *
Demoralization **

* Lesser undead can take many different forms besides the typical HUMAN skeletal one. A bird or snake can be animated and provide a very stealthy and hard to notice reconnaissance. The physical form can be preserved through the use of magics, so that it is not obvious to the naked eye that one is even viewing an non-living creature. (see pricing section)

** There are few things as demoralizing on the battlefield than seeing you fallen comrades rise up to fight alongside your enemy, even when your very eyes tell you the wounds they suffered should guarantee their eternal slumber. A small, well applied, group of enemy soldiers animated as lesser undead, can be worth ten times their number in effectiveness on the battlefield. (see pricing section)


Mechanical Labor *
Drawbridge / Gates
Water system / collection
Mining / earth moving
Hunting / fishing
Life detection system / alarms
Ease-of-life Automation (doors, drinks, servants)
Conventional Anti-Intruder Systems power and arming (Traps)

Imagine a skeletal giant with a large boom bolted onto his shoulders, attached to this is a rope and pulley system that the giant could use to lift heavy loads...a portable crane...

* Used to power a mechanical system or apparatus, undead can provide a near limitless power source.


Due to the typically poor reception one receives from the general populace on matters of animated skelital remains, the guild has several alternatives to assist in implementation.

Cosmetic preservation of host remains.
Use of both animal and human remains.
Mechanized packaging.

If you are in need of a skeletal arm to perpetually turn a wooden crank handle, you really only need an arm, not an entire unsightly skeleton. The guild and it's affiliated skilled craftsman can construct an enclosure to conceal the nature of the true magic which does the work, and only leave an axle or gear edge, or pulley/rope/chain exposed. This can then be attached and integrated into your existing mechanical infrastructure. The end result is a visually pleasing device which accomplished the same task, in the same manner, but is likely to be much more well received by the general public. This modular design would allow the same component to be used in multiple devices.


Miniature golems crafted by hand from conventional materials (vs human or animal skeletal remains) can be crafted and then enchanted by guild for only a moderately increased fee over a more traditional animation. The advantages of which are many.

For one, they are granted their animation vie a link with the positive material plane, instead of the negative. This has many far reaching implications, one of which being that they will not appear as 'evil' should one detect for such. Also, the introduction of numerous positive links means that more negative links are offset and we come closer to maintaining the universal balance. So in effect, purchasing and creating such positive 'linked' constructs is a positive step towards helping out world.

Secondly, because the physical manifestation that the energy is bound to is crafted, it can be made a) out of a variety of materials, and b) more specialized in it's form.

Typical construction is wood, it providing a good compromise between cost and time to manufacture. If desired metal can also be used, thus allowing for more physically demanding duties. Other materials are available, contact a guild representative for a customized quote.

The custom building of the physical form also allows very specialized and thus efficient design. For example if your needs require a set of constructs to dig earth, they can be made with shovels on the ends of their appendages instead of hands. The same is true for pickaxes, pulley systems, hooks, hoes, sickles, etc...

This specialization of physical form does not end at shape and materials, but also includes size. If you are in need of a very small construct for detailed tasks, our affiliated artisans can easily construct you one to most any dimensions you desire.


(in thousands of gold pieces)

1 Human(oid) Skeleton 1-5
1 Human(oid) Zombie 2-8
1 Large Skeleton 5-10
1 Giant Skeleton 8-20
Physical Preservation (Preserver ; Spiritbind) 1-3
Physical Overhaul (Bonebind) 1
Extra Durability (Strengthen Undead Link) 2-6
1 Humanoid Wood 3-5
1 Humanoid Steel 5-10
1 Large Wood 5-10
1 Large Steel 7-15
1 Giant Wood 10-20
1 Giant Steel 15-25
Mechanized Packaging *

Special Needs will be priced on a case by case basis: Continual Lights, Internal Weaponry, Custom Enchantments

* Mechanized packaging will vary greatly in price depending on the engineering requirements and materials. Roughly one should expect in the range of 50-500gp, only exceeding this for exceptionally large or complex works.

Some Guidelines on Spells

[Improved Undead Intellect] C4 / W5
Cast-1 turn
AoE-1 creature / HD per level

This spell will allow typically mindless undead (skeletons, zombies, and such) to have some limited intellect. Normally if a skeleton is commanded to 'wait here' and a barrel springs a leak and burning oil oozes out around them, they will continue to stand right there where you told them to. When you return there is only a pile of ashes...This spell gives them low intelligence and understanding ability (INT8). The material components are 25gp / HD worth of powdered gems.

[Superior Undead Intellect] C6 / W7
Cast-1 turn
AoE-1 creature / HD per level

This spell will allow typically mindless undead (skeletons, zombies, and such) to have some limited intellect. Normally if a skeleton is commanded to 'wait here' and a barrel springs a leak and burning oil oozes out around them, they will continue to stand right there where you told them to. When you return there is only a pile of ashes...This spell gives them a respectable intelligence and understanding ability (INT16). Mindless undead can suddenly become very dangerous when given the power of reasoning and planning. The material components are 250gp / HD worth of powdered gems.

[Strengthen Undead Link] C3 / W5
Cast-1 hr
AoE-Within Inscribed Area (see below)
Range-10' / lv

This spell involves a long (1 hr) ritual which will serve to bond the undead more closely with the negative material plane from which it derives it animation and power. One must inscribe a casting circle. The materials for this will cost 100gp per creature to be cast on. These materials are for incenses and rare herbs and some powdered gems. IF the caster desires a permanent casting circle can be engraved into stone or other solid surface. IF this is done a one time cost of 250gp per creature the circle is capable of accommodating is assessed, but after this, requirement for the spell will only be 50gp per creature for the incense and such as the circle is already in place. Note that these costs are relatively independent of the physical size of the circle. The casting circle will average about 25gp per foot of circumference, but this size is flexible (+-15% as needed)

Once the ritual is begun, any interruption will cause it to fail, and all undead within the circle must save vs DB or crumble to dust from the unstable energies flowing through them.

At the end of the casting the caster must make a CON check, failure will indicate the the caster is exhausted and will be unable to perform strenuous activity for a number of days equal to the number the CON check was missed by, with a NAT 20 being counted as a 30.

All undead that the spell was successfully completed on will be harder to turn. Attempts to turn such strengthened creatures will be at -1 / 4 levels of the priest who strengthened them.

[Mini-Golem] C5 / W5
Cast-1 hr
AoE-1 creature / HD per level

This spell creates a miniature (in power) golem which has many characteristics very similar to that of an animated skeleton.

All that is required is to cast the spell on a suitable frame, thus imbuing it with animation and some limited sentience. (For 3E games I would recommend a small XP price for this spell too, something like 100XP / HD or thereabouts)

Common Characteristics:
AC:By Frame
HD:By Caster (up to 1/caster level)
HIT:+1 / HD, +possibly additional pluses by size
DAMAGE: By Frame

Frames: A mini-g frame can be made of anything, but poor materials will make a mini-g which will not hold up well to daily use and will be easily destroyed/damaged by hostile forces or the environment.

Typical example are as follows...

Wood w/ Metal joints-Cost 50gp
Man-Sized weighs 100lbs
Half damage from Slashing/Piercing
Full damage from Bludgeoning
Subject to wood rot, moisture.

All Steel-Cost 100gp
Man-Sized weighs 200lbs
1/4 damage from slashing/Piercing
1/2 damage from bludgeoning
Subject to rust

When figuring the total HD the caster can use, different traits can be purchased with those HD as follows...

Item Cost (in Caster HD)
Each Mini-G HD 1
Each STR Category/point over STR12 1
Size T (damage/r not to exceed 3) .25
Size S (damage/r not to exceed 6) .5
Size M (damage/r not to exceed 16) 0
Size L (damage/r not to exceed 24) 2
Size H (damage/r not to exceed 36) 4
Size G (damage/r not to exceed 48) 8
Improved Intelligence * 5
Superior Intelligence ** 10

* Enhanced intelligence imparts the mini-g with low level intelligence (8). This will also allow the mini-g to step out of a puddle of burning oil without any outside instruction.

** Same as improved intelligence trait except INT16

NOTE: DAMAGE is a function of size, and STR, HIT DICE is NOT! You can craft a huge deadly golem which is easy to destroy.

Finally, when a mini-golem is destroyed, it will crumble to useless rubble. You cannot simply re-animate it, it will be broken and ruined and a totally new frame must be constructed.


There is sometimes debate as to whether or not spells such as animate dead actually tamper with the spirit of the deceased or not. Saying 'No' allows a much broader selection of alignments to take advantage of the many benefits undead can provide. (There seems to be nothing particularly evil about using the remains of a fallen creature for something useful...it may go against social conventions, and the fallout of going against those social conventions could be very severe, but that doesn't make the act EVIL. Of course deciding that it DOES tamper with / bind / restrict / harm the actual spirit of the deceased severely limits the usability for most alignments, pretty much limiting it to evil only. From a game mechanic point of view it could easily go either way. Spells such as spirit bind (necromancer's handbook) would contribute to the argument that the spirit is NOT messed with in a plain old animate dead, else there would be no need for the spirit bind spell at all...

The greatest argument for the point of view that it DOES tamper with the spirit is as follows...animate dead is a relatively low level spell, not involving too much power...even a wimpy 1st level cleric can animate a small HD, and cause it's corpse to defy death and walk again...ever think about what level an animate dead would be if you tried to do the same thing, but in a different context?

PLAYER:I want a spell that will create a servant for me, it should never eat, or sleep, or disobey. It can be dumb, but never tires of physical labor, and there is no issue of morality, it simply obeys ME without question...and it should fight about as well as any run of the 1st level priest and take half damage from edged weapons. Oh yeah, and the duration is permanent.

DM:WOW!! that sounds pretty powerful, even if we give it some big vulnerabilities, like let other priest make it flee or destroy it it's a pretty mean spell...ok how about 5th level?

You might disagree on the exact level designator but you get the point, animate dead seems more powerful than you would normally expect from spells of the same level. Why? Well the designer probably originally expected it to be an NPC spell only and for a blanket "useable by evil only" restriction to make it such that balance didn't matter (it's ok for the bad guys to be unfair)... One LOGICAL explanation is that the extra 'power' of the spell is actually derived from the imprisoned/hindered soul...this also contributes to the original evil perspective...

Another item of question is turning hit dice...IF I use an [animate dead animals] (necromancers handbook and other sources too) to animate a giant scorpion with 5HD into a skeleton...does it then turn as a skeleton? meaning all those HD mean nothing? or does it turn as a 5HD creature, likely making it TOO HARD to turn? This depends on how you run your game...if you provide a spell to make turning harder (I have a [Strengthen Undead Link]), and apply modifiers due to circumstances (in evil temple, turning priest is not confident, or is almost dead/out of hit points) than I think it is ok to turn them as a skeleton with modifiers, if you don't apply these sorts of modifiers I would say don't turn the 5HD skeleton as a simple skeleton, perhaps not as 5HD either...maybe half all HD and turn it as that creature? This still makes turning a skeletal Roc pretty tuff (it qualifies under the Necro Handbook requirements for [Animate Dead Animal])...something to think about.

Last item to consider...if you animate a corpse can you choose whether it animates as a skeleton or a zombie or must a skeleton corpse be flesh free? and a zombie corpse be fleshy? I would reason that a zombie MUST have flesh as per the zombie description. I think that a fleshy corpse CAN be used as a 'skeleton' though, and over time, unless precautions are taken, the flash WILL rot and fall off. So assuming your corpse has flesh on it, at the time of casting your [animate dead] you would be able to choose between a skeleton or zombie for your creation...that being the case, a clever player could use other spells to preserve the corpse (necro handbook and other sources had various spells to do this [preserve], and if I recall [spirit bind] would preserve the flesh too) So be prepared with ruling on what effect flesh has on a skeleton. would the flesh not serve to protect the skeletal frame? and the flesh contains no magic and thus hurting the flesh would not inflict damage on the skeletal frame (i.e. which you need to do in order to 'kill' it), except collaterally. Would this be expressed as increased AC for the 'skeleton' or increased HP/reduced damage? maybe half damage -1 for edged weapons, and 1/4 damage from blunt weapons, with the flesh serving as padding? Does it slow their movement? probably not...can you animate an animal as a skeleton which technically has no skeleton, like a worm? what about 'shelled' creatures? will their shell serve as a 'skeleton' for spell purposes? 

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built by unclefester | sternzwischen | updated 14-05-29 23:15:26