Because of some discussion on the Yahoo! DragonQuest groups, and a couple of recent adventures targeted at DragonQuest that featured or included undead, I decided to review again what is and is not there in the DragonQuest rules concerning the undead.
IncorporealityFirst up is the variable corporealness issue. Using Wights as an example, we know from their description that:
Wights are a form of ghost. They normally appear in their human form, but vary in substantiality in direct proportion to the time of day. Bright sunlight makes them fade into the spirit world while moonlight and starlight increase their corporeality. When in a corporeal state (usually just after moonrise), they are capable of harming humans just as if they were, themselves, alive.The implication here is that they cannot harm others when they are incorporeal which seems reasonable enough but can they be harmed? Perhaps they can only be affected by magic when incorporeal? The Comments on Spectres says no for them but it is unclear if this is true for other Greater Undead.
Can they cast spells when incorporeal? If so, who can be affected by those spells? Just themselves? Other incorporeal entities? The living? For Night-Gaunts, Wights, and Wraiths, no answers are provided. The Comments for Spectres say that they cannot physically harm a character while incorporeal and then immediately go on to say that they can perform magic. Left unsaid is whether or not magic cast by Spectres while incorporeal can affect characters but I believe that is the intent. This would be contrary to the statement that they can't be affected by magic while incorporeal. Why should they be able to affect the corporeal world with magic when it can't affect them?
Can they be seen when at their most incorporeal? The description for Wights suggests perhaps no when in bright sunlight though Ghosts can be seen if faintly under that condition. No insight is provided for Night-Gaunts, which are lesser Wights so the argument could be made either way. Spectres "may disappear entirely during the day" which suggests that they may be entirely on the spirit plane during the day and that this may be at their discretion. Nothing is said about Wraiths visibility but they are "much like a wight" so treating them similar to Wights seems fair.
The entries for Wights and Wraiths specifically mention the moon's effect on their corporealness but the entries for none of the others do. If they are most powerful or corporeal after moonrise what does that mean when the moon rises during the day such as during 1st quarter? Are they slightly more corporeal during the noon to sundown period while the moon is up?
Assuming you can, what does killing an undead mean when they are partially corporeal? Is a partially corporeal body left behind? Spectres are "half of this world and half of another plane." Presumably, any remains go back to the "other plane".
What about the weapons, armor, or other items the undead are carrying? Night-gaunts and Wights are capable of using weapons, armor, and shields. I think it is safe to assume that items they are wearing or carrying also fade in and out with them. But if a partially incorporeal Wight drops a weapon does that weapon become fully corporeal or does it fade away? If a Wight, picks up a weapon that is laying about does the weapon now adopt the degree of insubstantiality of the Wight?
What about missile weapons? If a Wight has a bow can they fire arrows at others when incorporeal? Does the arrow stay incorporeal, passing through entities and objects with no effect, or does it become solid?
Spectres are able to control whether or not they are incorporeal but this is not mentioned in any of the descriptions for the other undead. Of interest is that this is presented as an either/or situation and not a variable degree of substantiality and is somewhat in contradiction to the statement that their "characteristics and power of spectres varies in direct proportion to their substantiality" which suggests that their substantiality varies.
Do the Greater Undead have a sense of the sun's and/or moon's position? Do they know when sunrise/sunset are about to occur? It would seem that they should since they are so tied to the positions of the celestial bodies.
Can undead, when insubstantial, pass through walls or doors? Can the incorporeal Wight pass through walls during the day but not at night? In various horror and fantasy fiction ghosts often can pass through walls and doors but it is also fairly common for ghosts to be constrained or restricted to certain rooms or the interior of a building even when the walls of that building no longer exist.
For my own campaigns, I don't use the waxing and waning concept much at all. When the PCs encounter undead, it will be either underground or at night. In those circumstances I have always played the Greater Undead as being at their most corporeal. I treat Night-Gaunts and Wights as corporeal beings all the time; their unquiet spirits animating their dead bodies long after death. Spectres and Wraiths are spirits that can manifest in corporeal forms that may mimic the form they had in life but just as often appear in the more traditional shrouded vaguely humanoid shape. Spectres can choose their desired form at any time while Wraiths can only assume the more human form at night.
Drain Life-Force AbilityAll Greater Undead have the ability to drain life from their victims in the form of Fatigue or Endurance. What isn't stated, except in the case of Vampires, is whether or not that doing so restores Fatigue or Endurance lost by the undead. I have never played them that way but I wouldn't argue that it was incorrect to do so. The Weapons section for Night-gaunts and Wights says that they "may drain the life-force of any character with whom he comes into physical contact." Does this mean that they may choose not to do so? I can imagine situations where an undead might choose not to drain life from a victim.
Spectres, on the other hand, are different and their touch is described in the Talents, Skills, and Magic section as being "ice cold" and it directly affects Endurance. A physical cold sensation is not ascribed to the touch of the other Greater Undead. The Comments section says that Spectres "cannot physically harm a character while insubstantial" does this apply to their touch? Spectres have no natural weapons nor are they weapon users so to what does that statement apply if not their drain via touch?
Strike Chances are not given for touch attacks by the Greater Undead. For the weapon users like Night-gaunts and Wights, the Strike Chance of the weapon they are wielding would apply in most cases. For Spectres and Wraiths, the Unarmed Combat Strike Chance could be used though no mention is made and no Rank is given for these skills (or any skills). A Spectre would have an average Strike Chance of 44% at R0 while the Wraith fares a bit better thanks to their oddly high Agility, with an average Strike Chance of 65% at R0. As a touch attack wouldn't depend upon force, and could just be a fleeting touch, plus neither Wraiths nor Spectres need fear being hurt by weapons, it would seem like they should have a significantly better chance to hit.
Magic and the Greater UndeadFirst, who the heck teaches them magic? Do they take night classes at the community college? I guess that night is when magic from the Entities colleges would be taught but still do you really want a Wight sitting in class with the other students? Since Wights are often bound to a location there doesn't seem to be a lot of opportunities for them to get any training. Night-gaunts could, in theory, travel about and perhaps find an Adept willing to teach them but it is not like they can wander into a bar and ask if there are any Celestial Adepts around to teach them.
Even so, a number of the Greater Undead have very high Magical Aptitude attributes with Spectres going up to 30. All can be Adepts and some are automatically Adepts though what that means is left undefined. One of the oddest contradictions in DragonQuest is that the College of Necromancy includes a ritual for turning oneself into a Greater Undead but no Greater Undead can be an Adept of the College of Necromancy.
Night-Gaunts - Only Celestial Magics. No specific division. Presumably knowledge they already had? Though they are created by Wights the limitation on minimum spell rank isn't noted.
Spectres - Celestial Magics. Dark Mages only. All Spectres are Adepts. It is not clear from the description if they just automatically become Adepts and are granted this knowledge or must somehow seek it out.
Vampires - Are automatically Adepts of the Sorceries of the Mind but they only have what Ranks they had while alive. If they weren't already Adepts of that college it doesn't say if they automatically gain Rank 0 with all General Knowledge nor if they perhaps also get Rank 0 with the Special Knowledge of the college.
Wights - Celestial Magics (Conjurations of Night and Stars) only. I believe the parenthetical text is leftover from early drafts of the rules. Perhaps from before Shadow Mages were added to the college. The description notes that they are limited to spells/rituals of Rank 10 and above so they are stuck with only those Rank 10 and up spells/rituals they knew prior to becoming undead as they wouldn't be able to improve spells of lesser rank nor learn new ones.
Wraiths - As with Wights but the Rank restriction drops to Rank 8.
In general my Night-Gaunts, Wights and Wraiths are very rarely Adepts and when they are they are usually the big-bad of a dungeon or behind a series of encounters. With Vampires I give them a few spells out of Sorceries of the Mind as Talents with older vamps having more of them and higher ranks. In some cases, when their backgrounds had them as Adepts prior to becoming Undead, I've had Vampires that were Adepts of Celestial Magics or Necromantic Conjurations.
Where Do They Come From?For most of the Lesser and Greater Undead the descriptions do provide information on how they are created or how they come into being. A few do not and there are also some inconsistencies among related entries.
According to their descriptions, Skeletons and Zombies are both animated by Adepts of the College of Necromancy. The College of Black Magics includes an Animation of the Dead spell (S-18) that is the same as that of the Necromancers. The College of Lesser Summonings includes a spell for Summoning Lesser Undead but my take on this is that it is a summoning and not an animation. Unfortunately for those looking to stock up dungeons with lesser undead, the animation spells only last 13 hours at most. Since not even Necromancers can permanently animate undead that means any dungeon with zombies or skeletons has to keep a skilled Necromancer on call or the guardians will lay down on the job. Additionally when the spell runs out the skeletons immediately fall apart and turn to dust. So no reanimation if you let the spell lapse. As described I don't really think of these as undead as the animating force is the magic and will of the Adept. No different than golems or perhaps like the minor elementals that can be created via the binding element rituals of the elemental colleges.
Ghosts come from individuals that die under traumatic circumstances and are generally well-explained in the entry for them.
The rules only tell us that Ghouls are created by other Ghouls. As one becomes a Ghoul by being bitten - and infected - by another Ghoul, they sound more like a type of zombie including the caveat that you must take out the motor center to stop them. They are also clumsy, slow-moving creatures much like zombies in many current movies and books. Ghouls devour the flesh of the living but it isn't clear what would happen to them if trapped in a crypt or dungeon without the occasional adventurer to snack on. Could really have used some more detail about how and why they are created.
There are two types of Night-gaunts: ones created when a Wight kills a character by draining their Endurance and those created when a character dies while under a geas or oath. Night-gaunts created by Wights are destroyed when the Wight which created them is destroyed. The description for Night-gaunts refers to them as "undead oath-breakers" but does dying while under a geas or oath make one an oath-breaker? Seems a bit extreme. If a good character swears an oath to protect some place but dies while doing so, would it make sense for them to rise as undead to "serve evil in all ways"? I could see that they might rise to continue to serve that oath, to protect a location, but wouldn't be doing so for evil reasons. Seems more likely that someone who dies while under oath, and while intentionally betraying that oath, would be the type to come back with evil intent. Characters already in service to evil and under the influence of a geas or oath also seem like reasonable choices to come back as Night-gaunts.
From the Comments section of the entry for Wights, they "are individuals who have died under a geas or oath which they have been unable to fulfill in life." The Ritual of Becoming Undead (R-3) of the College of Necromancy can also produce one as a side effect of performing the ritual. It is curious that nowhere in the entry for Wights is there a mention of serving evil yet their "offspring", Night-gaunts, are described as doing only that. Commonly Wights are bound to protect some location by their original oath.
No explanation is given for how Wraiths come to exist or their motivations. Like Wights, Wraiths can be created as a side effect of a Necromancer's ritual but, in that case, they are tied to a specific location. I find it interesting that the undead with the highest Agility (25-35) has no physical attacks and needs no Defense as they can't be harmed by weapons. Because of this high Agility, most Wraiths will be able to take 2 actions during a Pulse and their average Initiative Value of 55 will make them very dangerous to engage if someone is crazy enough to try engage them in Melee or Close combat.
The entry for Spectres also lacks any background as to where they come from or what creates them. The only mention of the creation of Spectres in the rules comes from Arcane Wisdom under the College of Shaping Magic where an Adept will become a Spectre at the end of the ritual when creating items with a Shaping Index greater than 4000. Like Night-gaunts created by Wights, a character drained of their last point of Endurance becomes a half-strength Spectre.
Per the description in the DragonQuest rules, Vampires are created by performing the Ritual of Becoming Undead or by being drained of their last point of Endurance by a Vampire. Given that Major Curse can inflict Lycanthropy I would expect that Major Curse could also cause someone to become a vampire. Probably something only known to really old gypsy women with some serious Ranks in Major Curse.