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A Guide to Undead in AD&D

This article takes an in-depth look at the attributes and resistances of undead in the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game.

Undead rank among some of the most iconic monsters found in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game. However, despite their prevalence in many AD&D books and modules, undead have been a source of confusion for many Dungeon Masters. The main reason for this confusion stems from how information concerning the undead is organized in the AD&D rulebooks and monster guides. Secondary to this is the lack of clarification of some of basic undead attributes. Although “undead” is a monster type classification as noted in the Monster Manual (p. 109) and Dungeon Masters Guide (p. 230), there is no single listing of the common attributes, powers, and resistances that one finds with other monsters, such as demons, devils, daemons, modrons, and so forth. Instead, this information is spread piecemeal throughout the monster guides, Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide, and other official books. This article will attempt to organize those common undead characteristics from the disparate 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons sources into a single cohesive listing.

UNDEAD IN THE RULEBOOKS

The glossary of the Dungeon Masters Guide (p. 230) defines undead as, “A class of malevolent, soulless monsters which are neither truly dead nor alive”. They are the unliving corpses and spirits of formerly living beings (footnote 1). These creatures no longer possess the biological functions and desires of the living (thus, making magical sleep ineffective). It is noted that many types of undead feed on the living (e.g. ghasts, ghouls, spectres, vampires, etc.), however, there is no mention of whether or not they must to feed to survive. They do not age (DMG, p. 134), are immune to withering attacks (DMG, p. 134), and make no noise when moving (DMG, p. 60). Their minds and emotions that are indecipherable to the living (DMG, p. 150; PHB, p. 70). Because of this, command (PHB, p. 43), ESP (DMG, p. 150; PHB, p. 70), and suggestion (p. 75) will not work on undead.

These monsters gain their unlife and power from the energy of the Negative Material Plane (PHB, p. 120; DMG, p. 60), although, “energy drainer” types seem to be more strongly connected to the plane (MM, p. 102) (footnotes 2 & 3). Undead are said to exist on the Prime Material and Negative Material planes simultaneously (MM, p. 99), though this is contradicted in the Manual of the Planes (p. 54), which states that this is impossible since there is no direct connection to these two planes. They are not affected by magics that draw upon the Negative Material Plane (i.e. “death magics”) (Greyhawk Adventures, pgs. 59 & 60), and cannot energy drain other undead (I6 Ravenloft, p. 5). Evil undead can be detected with a detect evil spell (DMG, p. 60).

A CONFUSION OF RESISTANCES

Most of the qualities, powers, and resistances of undead are listed in the entries for each individual monster type in the three 1st edition AD&D monster guides (i.e. Monster Manual, Monster Manual II, and Fiend Folio). Resistances or vulnerabilities to spells and effects are, arguably, what defines the undead from other categories of monsters. Listed below are ever type of undead monster appearing in the monster guides and their resistances listed therein.

Apparition: none listed

Coffer Corpse: sleep, charm, mind-influencing spells

Death Knight*: none listed

Demi-lich: none**

Ghast: sleep, charm

Ghost: none listed

Ghoul: sleep, charm

Groaning spirit***: sleep, charm, hold, cold, electricity

Haunt: none listed

Huecuva: mind-influencing spells

Lich: sleep, charm, cold, electricity, polymorph, feeblemind, insanity, death magic

Mummy: sleep, charm, hold, paralysis, poison, cold, electricity

Penanggalan†: mind-influencing spells

Poltergeist: none listed

Revenant: none listed

Shadow: sleep, charm, hold, cold

Sheet Ghoul: sleep, charm

Sheet Phantom: sleep, charm

Skeletal Warrior: none listed

Skeleton‡: sleep, charm, hold, cold, (illusion)#

Skeleton, animal‡: sleep, charm, hold, cold, death magic, (illusion)#

Son of Kyuss: mind-influencing spells

Spectre: sleep, charm, hold, paralysis, poison, cold

Vampire: sleep, charm, hold, paralysis, poison, cold (half damage), electricity (half damage), (polymorph)@

Wight: sleep, charm, hold, paralysis, poison, cold

Wraith: sleep, charm, hold, paralysis, poison, cold

Zombie‡: sleep, charm, hold, cold, suffocation/drowning, (illusion)#

Juju zombie: poison, cold, electricity, death magic, mind-influencing spells

Zombie, monster‡: sleep, charm, hold, cold, death magic, (illusion)#

* The death knight is listed as a type of “lich”. Possibly, they have the same resistances as a lich.

** Demi-liches are immune to most everything.

*** Groaning spirits are never specifically referred as a type of undead in the MM, nor, conversely, it is noted that they are not. They are not found on the list of undead that can be turned in the DMG. However, the groaning spirit is described as “the spirit of an evil female elf” that “returns to harm the living” with its “chilling touch” (MM, p. 50), which sounds a lot like an undead. They also have much of the same resistances as many other undead. However, DL14 Dragons of Triumph (p. 13) refers to groaning spirits as “undead”, as does 2nd edition AD&D.

† Penanggalan are listed as a type of “vampire”. Possibly, they have the same resistances as a vampire.

‡ “Mindless” undead are those with an Intelligence rating of “non-” (0). These undead are created by magic-users or clerics with the animate dead spell.

# WG 6 Isle of the Ape notes that “mindless” dinosaurs (i.e. those with an Intelligence rating of “non-”, as are most dinosaurs), are immune to illusions. “Illusions applied to reptiles [i.e. dinosaurs] are virtually useless, as the brains of these monsters are too dull to notice anything of such subtlety. Thus, when such spells are used against these monsters, they always save.” It would not be a stretch to apply this rationale of illusion immunity to all creatures with a “non-” Intelligence rating, in this case, “mindless” undead.

@ Vampires will be affected by polymorph if they fail their saving throw. However, they can negate the polymorph by shapeshifting to another form at a later time.

It is readily apparent from the list above that resistances to spells and effects are not consistently applied to each undead type. Some resistances, such as liches to polymorph, seem to be unique to that undead. Other resistances, though, seem to be more universal to undead, but are inexplicably wholly omitted from many monster descriptions, or differ from type to type. For instance, ghosts have no spell/effect resistances listed. Does this mean they are susceptible to all of these effects, or is it simply an omission? Animal skeletons are noted as being immune to death magics, but "normal" skeletons are not. Both of these undead types are created by the animate dead spell, so it would be reasonable that they would share common resistances. Some undead are immune to poison, while most are not. Some are listed as being immune to hold spells, but not to paralysis. There seems to be little rationale for the differences and commonalities of resistances types of undead as listed in the monster guides.

Despite the inconsistent application of resistances in the individual monster entries, the Monster Manual indicates that undead possess some universal resistances. The entry for “manes” (p. 17) states that — like undead — these demons are immune to “sleep, charm, and similar spells”. The entry for “ghost” (p. 43) is more specific noting that, “Ghosts are of the “undead” class, and thus sleep and charm spells have no affect them.” A number of monster entries in the Fiend Folio are even more unambiguous, noting that undead are immune to all spells that effect the mind (see, p. 71, “Penanggalan”; p. 76, “Revenant”; p. 83, “Son of Kyuss”; and p. 97, “Yellow Musk Zombie”). This includes resistance to “charm, hold, illusion, sleep and so forth” and “mind-influencing spells” (footnote 4). Since these passages are more explicit and broad-reaching, they supersede all other statements in the books concerning undead’s resistance to mind-influencing/ affecting spells and effects.

UNIVERSAL UNDEAD ATTRIBUTES & RESISTANCES

Using the information found in the rulebooks (scant as some of it is), a list of universal attributes and resistances can be applied to all undead.

Undead Morphology: The AD&D monster guides notes that there are two categories of undead: corporeal and non-corporeal. The rulebooks offer little specific information concerning the abilities of these different forms.

Corporeal undead have a physical form that consists of the body they once possessed in life. Non-corporeal undead are the spirit of the being without the body in an intangible or gaseous form (REF5 Lords of Darkness, p. 85). This form usually rese