CRB is a repository of all the creative things that float through my mind about the RPG Pathfinder. Two major features are random character generation and building characters based on the god they worship. Anything that seems like it adds to the creative aspects of the game will pop up from time to time, including location descriptions, adventure ideas and even short stories. CRB won't just be my own creativity, it will open the floor to anyone who has an idea sparked by what I present to you.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

An (Un)Death in the Family

So this week the second publication I have contributed to has been published. TPK games has released the next installment in their line of “Feats of Legends” books: 20 Undead Feats. The TPK staff were a joy to work with and I got to contribute with my friend Neal Litherland, who of course runs the Improved Initiative  blog. You should take a look at it, if you haven’t already.

With the undead being the theme of the new book, I thought we could talk undead and specifically undead that are not evil. Can there be non-evil undead you ask yourself? And the answer is that intelligent undead fall into the same category of most other creatures in the bestiary, they can actually be of any alignment you choose as a GM.

Page five of bestiary one clearly states:

“While a monster's size and type remain constant (unless changed by the application of templates or other unusual modifiers), alignment is far more fluid. The alignments listed for each monster represent the norm for those monsters—they can vary as you require them to in order to serve the needs of your campaign. Only in special cases is this more fixed, such as creatures with an Intelligence of 2 or lower (which are almost always neutral) and planar monsters (outsiders with alignments other than those listed are unusual and typically outcasts from their kind).”

Since intelligent undead have an INT score higher than 2 and they are not planar creatures from an alignment based plane (thus giving them an alignment subtype), they can officially be of any alignment. But there is further evidence that they aren’t forced to be evil. Although channeling negative energy can be done mostly by evil-aligned, or naughty-leaning neutral-aligned characters, negative energy itself is not evil. The negative energy plane is not an aligned plane and negative energy is neither good nor evil.

Lastly there is precedence. I can think of one Paizo’s modules where there is an undead alchemical zombie (yes zombies aren’t usually intelligent but she is) who is neutral off the top of my head, and I am sure there are others. So, even beyond some boxes of text in a bestiary that you could argue intent with, Paizo has explicitly shown us through their content that yes, undead can be non-evil.

I believe we’ve thoroughly established that we can do it, but just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should. So why should we add non-evil aligned undead? And maybe a better question how do these undead become non-evil even when 99% of their kind are evil? Both very valid questions.

The answer to why is pretty simple to me, to switch things up. Players have seen the flesh eating Ghoul, what about the Ghoul scholar? Tired of seeing the faux Dracula blood sucking vampire, why not the vampire who worries about the welfare of his people? The juxtaposition of overwhelmingly evil beings not being evil throws everything in the face of convention. Add in the fact you could have a Lawful Good lich that still detects as evil because he’s undead, and watch as the Paladin tries to smite him to no effect causing him to believe he is losing his powers.

How is a bit tougher I think, but there are still many answers to the question. A vampire or even a mummy may have sought undeath as a means to protect their people forever. Other randomly created undead like ghouls might somehow maintain many of their past memories and desperately cling to their humanity. Ghosts are probably the easiest, just give them a piece of unsettled business that extends beyond killing some bloodline that wronged them.

So there you have it, the case for non-evil undead. Would you use a non-evil undead in your game? Would you go so far as to let an undead creature be actually good? Tell us your stories of undead gone not-bad.


  1. Sure, I don't see why I wouldn't let an undead be good/neutral. There's nothing really preventing it other than player/GM misconceptions and generalizations.

  2. I have a lich ready and waiting in my campaign that only wanted to live with her companions forever. Turned herself and her friends immortal through undeath. There's nothing evil about her and I honestly cannot wait to present the connundrum to my party.

  3. I think for me there is an odd dichotomy. I think the actual creation of undead is inherently an evil act. Doing so, even if it is for the greater good, drags you toward being evil. Although technically in pathfinder there isn't a rule that says evil descriptor spells are evil acts. James Jacobs and many of the other guys at Paizo have said they all think it is, they just haven't codified it leaving leeway for GMs. However on Golarion creating undead is evil.

    That said being undead doesn't mean being evil. So sure maybe a necromancers raises you but that doesn't make you inherently evil as an undead. Although many who become undead can't fight off their new forms baser urges, and most spontaneously created undead are form because they were evil in life.

  4. I had a player come to me with the concept of a necromancer who worked exclusively with the souls of the dead who -for various reasons- were unable to move on or were otherwise willing to trade a favor for helping them move on.
    I thought it was a cool concept so I worked out a way to keep both lore and concept. The essence of it was that he was creating free-willed intelligent undead who would serve him until the group finished a particular task/quest and the Necromancer had helped them do whatever thing helped the spirit move on.

    1. So hes not creating undead hes just commanding ones that already exist. This is interesting. The cimmand and control undead spells are not evil aligned so this concept could work quite well

  5. Quite late, but in Curse of the Crimson Throne there is a ghost NPC who's Chaotic Neutral.

    1. I think ghosts are one of the few pathfinder undead that don't universally start as evil. In the ghost template it says as much.