The Undead

A Primer on the Undead

As Told by Chrissie Rocks (Taleweaver and Expert in All Manner of Things)

There are two major types of undead: the Corporeal and the Incorporeal. The Corporeal, since they have physical bodies, are the easiest to classify (and to deal with… but more on that later).

Starting with the lowest type, you have Zombies, sometimes known as the Shambling Dead (or any number of other terms). These are the corpses of unfortunate people who are animated with necromantic magic (banned in every civilized nation in the world). They are more-or-less mindless and have no free will of their own; they follow the commands of the one who created them to the best of their ability – though they have no imagination or incentive, so the commands have to be very literal and fairly simple. The Shambling Dead are, for the most part, very slow and are noted for their jerky and clumsy movements. However, they are extremely strong, immune to pain, fear, magic that affects the mind or the senses, and are almost impossible to kill. You need to chop their bodies into pieces before they stop coming. Hacking or bludgeoning weapons are best – arrows and spears are pretty useless against them. Also, a properly cast counterspell (like Dispel Magic or Drain the Flow) can disrupt the magic that animates them, turning them back into harmless corpses.

The problem with using necromantic spells is that sometimes, the Shambling Dead can develop a mind of their own. No one knows why, but Zombies have been known to turn on their creators and kill them. An uncontrolled Shambler is known most commonly as a Ghoul or a Flesh-Eater. These creatures aren’t intelligent per se, but they have a predatory cunning and have been known to stalk their victims, lay simple traps, and set ambushes. They also tend to work together, like a wolf-pack, which makes them even more dangerous. Most Ghouls retain the slow, clumsy movements they had when they were simply animated corpses, but some are blindingly fast as well as being strong and hard to hurt. Watch out for them! While regular Zombies don’t need any sustenance (since they are animated by magic), Ghouls lust after flesh – fresh or rotten, it doesn’t seem to matter – and they greedily devour their kills.

Wights, unlike Ghouls or Zombies, were not created by a necromancer but instead apparently just rose from the grave of their own volition. They are sometimes found in old graveyards or battlefields. Some of them simply defend their resting place; others are very aggressive and they’ll leave their graves to hunt. Like Ghouls, they tend to have some cunning and are not just mindless monsters.

Vampires are the most powerful of the corporeal walking dead. They retain all the intelligence and initiative they had while alive, coupled with an insatiable hunger for the flesh and/or blood of the living. They retain all the strengths of the lesser undead – strength, speed, near invulnerability – and few of their weaknesses. Most of them, it is said, also command great magical powers. They can hypnotize you with a glance, transform into animal shapes, vanish into thin air, fly, or perform any number of other stunts. Some people refer to Vampires as Ghasts, but most scholars agree that a Ghast is something different – sort of like a Vampire (intelligent, fast, strong), but without all the fancy magical powers.

How do you hurt a Corporeal Undead? Like I said before, they’re really tough. Arrows are worthless, and spears aren’t much better. Most of them you can hack to pieces with a sword or axe, but until they’re completely shredded they’ll just keep attacking – they don’t know fear and they can’t feel pain. Holy items are said to work really well against them, though. Holy water dissolves their flesh, and priests can frighten them away with the power of their faith. Folklore has it that the touch of pure silver burns them, and that they can’t stand the smell, taste, or touch of salt. I don’t know if that’s true or not. Enchanted weapons cut through their rotten flesh like a hot knife through butter, but the same can be said for enchanted weapons cutting through just about anything.


And if you thought the Shambling Dead were bad, there’s the Incorporeal Undead… These things are disembodied spirits, doomed to haunt the earth. They don’t really exist in the real world – they have no physical form. But you can see them, and they can see you. Worse, they can touch you, and that’s bad. The Incorporeal Undead are known generically as *Ghosts *– if you don’t know what you’re dealing with specifically, it’s a Ghost.

The most benign (if such a word can be used to describe the Undead) types are known as Phantoms. They aren’t much more than just a ghostly image, or perhaps a sound. They tend to haunt one specific location, and don’t normally interact with the real world. They seem to be stuck in an endless loop of actions – they keep doing the same things, over and over again. They might replay a murder scene, or an accident, or a battle, or even something innocent like opening and closing a door. But if you get too close, you’ll risk being drawn into their world and becoming a part of their curse. There are stories of people who help them break their curse so they are free to move on to the next world, but there are also a lot of stories about people who tried to do that and who disappeared forever.

Specters are sort of like Phantoms in that they haunt a particular area, but unlike Phantoms they are extremely hostile to all living creatures. If you enter a place haunted by a Specter, they will come after you. Some of them are unable to manifest in the real world, instead trying to harm the intruders by attacking them indirectly (like pushing a bookcase over on you). These “non-manifesting” Specters are sometimes called Apparitions. Others become semi-real and will physically attack. For the most part, Specters can’t leave the specific area that they haunt, but there are some stories of Specters that can “attach” themselves (for brief periods) to people who’ve managed to escape from their deadly grasp. There is some debate among experts whether Apparitions are more dangerous than Specters, but if you ask me, the argument is a stupid one – they’re both things you want to stay away from.

Wraiths, like Specters, are extremely hostile. They hate the living. In addition, they are not limited to one particular time or place – they can manifest anywhere and at any time. It is said that once you’ve attracted the attention of a Wraith, you can never escape their curse until you are dead.

Shadows may or may not be actual Undead. Some people think they are Thaumaturgists who are lost in the Ghost-Realm, somewhere between this world and the next. They may have had an accident while teleporting, or attempting to travel between worlds, or something else entirely. Fear their touch, because it can draw you into their world – essentially turning you into a Shadow, too.

How do you stop a Ghost? That’s even tougher than stopping one of the Walking Dead. Weapons don’t harm them – not even silver ones. Magical weapons… may or may not hurt them. The stories are contradictory and inconclusive. Priests can drive them away with the power of their faith, and some of them are thought to recoil away from holy symbols (but I wouldn’t rely on that). Some spells work against them, but most don’t. Don’t let one of them touch you – they’ll suck the soul right out of your body. And I’ve heard stories of people who merely caught sight of a Ghost who aged ten years. Best bet when dealing with a Ghost? Run away – and pray it’s not a Wraith!

Oh, and one more thing! The worst thing about the Undead is that many of them have the ability to drag their victims into their curse – turning them into Undead monsters as well! Everyone pretty much agrees that this is the most terrifying power of the Living Dead. So be careful!

The ghost from Ju-On: The Grudge would be a Specter.
Samara, the ghost from The Ring is a Wraith.
The ghosts in Pulse were Shadows.

The Undead

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