Saturday, October 22, 2016

Undead in DragonQuest

A recent post on a Yahoo! DQ group asked about the life draining effects of the Greater Undead in DragonQuest.  I answered there but thought I would also post my take on them here and perhaps expand on it a little.

Life Draining Effects of Greater Undead

From the DragonQuest rules:
[74.2] Greater Undead
"Greater undead include all those undead who have the ability to drain life force from the living of this plane."
The life-draining effects of the Greater Undead make them some of the more deadly foes in DQ. A GM that throws a handful of these at even a mid-level group may get to see a full party wipe. The reason for this is that not only do you take damage from the touch of a greater undead - damage that isn't reduced by armor - but you also take the damage when you hit the undead with a weapon. Essentially the undead foe gets two chances to hurt you each melee pulse: once when you attack and once when it attacks. Not long after DQ was released I was able to talk with one of the designers, Chris Klug, at an Origins convention and he confirmed that this was the intent.
On the Yahoo! group a member asked about the chilling touch effects of the greater undead and whether or not a magic weapon or one with Weapon of Flames cast upon might protect the wielder from the effect when striking the undead.
My first thought on this was that while it is very common to describe these life-draining attacks as being cold or chilling in various movies, books and RPGs in DragonQuest itself the attacks aren't characterized that way except for the attacks of Spectres. My take is that the cold of it isn't from physical cold; it's from having your very life force drained out. The cold feeling is a symptom of this but it is not actual cold damage. So no protection from using a magic or wooden hafted weapon or non-metallic armors. Having Weapon of Flames cast on your weapon would provide no benefit either (but see below). Also no protection from spells like Resistance to Cold.  Greater Undead are deadly.  Trying to kill them with melee weapons is a good way to lose a character. Use missile weapons and magic or run away.
It should be noted also that fire in DragonQuest doesn't do any extra or special damage to undead whether lesser or greater. Generally only silvered weapons or magic and sometimes only one or the other of those.
In my campaigns there have been artifacts and weapons that did grant protection from the drain effects of undead.  I suspect that had SPI & DQ lasted longer that some form of protection from undead would have been seen in priest rules or one of the colleges.
No one has ever tried it in one of my campaigns but if someone were to use S-9 Shadowed Weapon from Necromantic Conjurations at Rank 6+ (so that the weapon was purely magic) I would probably rule that this would protect the wielder from taking damage when striking a Greater Undead.  I would explain this as a natural effect of using a spell that is tied, in some way, to the negative energies of the undead and being a purely magical construct would not conduct the life-draining forces of the undead.
I would probably extend this to S-7 Weapon of Flames if cast at R6+ to create a purely magical sword.  Might only grant partial protection reducing damage to half. Not because it was a flaming weapon but because it would be a purely magic construct.
An argument could made I suppose to allow a resistance check much like that for magic using 20% + WP to only take half-damage. In a campaign centered around undead this could be badly needed.


  1. From The College of Black Magic:

    Amulet of Calcedony: No undead willingly approach closer than 10 feet to the wearer in most cases. Cost: 600 Silver Pennies.

    This allows the character to avoid the touch by the Greater Undead.

    1. Good catch! Though I wonder what "in most cases" means?

    2. And also the Amulet of Jade: No undead will willingly approach closer than 30 feet to the wearer in most cases. Cost: 500 Silver Pennies.

  2. Phil, not only is Fire Magics S-7 Weapon of Flames a magic construct at ranks 6 and above, but it does one point of extra damage per EACH rank against undead rather than 1 for every 3 ranks.

    This is a spell specifically intended for fighting undead. When you spoke with Chris Klug was S-7 part of your discussion?

    1. That wasn't part of the discussion. Just fire in general. That would tend to support it providing some level of defense against the life draining attack. Wonder why none of the other fire spells provide extra damage or defense against undead? In this and in many other areas of DQ I always get the feeling there was more intended that didn't make it into the rules.

  3. I'll play devils advocate here for one of your original points above. Would you allow a player to cast Weapon of Flames on a bow rather than each individual arrow?

    The Celestial Magics Starfire (maybe a Sunfire variant) would be a prime candidate for another spell that might be particularly effective vs undead.

    FWIW, I believe I mentioned this on our GMs' list that there are some priest spells that are targeted vs undead and there is the turning table I would like to hash out with everyone there.

    1. For Weapon of Flames, along with Shadowed Weapon, I've always ruled that it doesn't affect the missiles, only the weapons. So the wielder would get the to hit bonuses but no damage bonuses. Weapon of Flames, of course, does allow missile weapons at R10 at which point you do get the flaming missiles. Certainly a good thing with undead running about. For the EE Enchanting Weapons spell I would grant the damage bonus to missiles but there I wouldn't consider them magic for the purposes of monsters that require magic to hit.

      Then there is the practical matter of having a flaming bow 3' in front of your face. You won't be able to see squat and will probably end up setting yourself on fire. Probably want to get Protection from Magical Fire thrown on you as well. :)

      Should Starfire hurt Undead more? That's more complicated. If it is because it is STAR light, and thus SUN light, shouldn't they be somewhat uncomfortable when outside at night? What about moonlight which is just reflected sunlight? If you used a mirror(s) to redirect sunlight into a tomb wouldn't that affect the undead so why not the moon? According to the rules they get stronger as the light of the moon gets stronger but that means as it gets closer to the strength of the sun. Maybe it's because it's reflected? Well then the mirror trick shouldn't work.

      Star Mages aren't Sun Mages. Note the casting modifiers for daytime. So in general I would say that none of their spells are more effective against undead. Not that you couldn't go the other way or say that they undead in your adventure are more affected by that spell.

  4. Do you think Necromancers or Black (or White) magics would have some spell or ritual to reduce the affect? I would even allow for a Necromancer to have a talent that would progressively reduce the risk or add a progressively greater resistance check. And a White adept could also have a resist/repulse undead...

    1. It would seem logical that a Necromancer could protect themselves against the effects of Greater Undead. Perhaps spells or a talent that gives them resistance or wards that keep them from approaching.

      There are a lot of ways to flesh out (heh) the undead and the colleges that interact with them.