Posted by: Alex | December 14, 2008

Theme Week Undead: Undeath and You!

[Blogatelle notes: Mea culpa. Alex did get this in on time, we just didn’t get it posted in time.]

Previously I went over the unique biology of trolls and now, its the undead’s turn. And considering the great confusion as to what their biology means to them in deciding how they feel, what they remember and generally who they are. I hope this can put to rest much of the confusion. Letting us actually spend time playing our forsaken, rather than think how we should play them.

So to start, we shall begin with the body itself.

Your skin is gray, perpetually rotting away or peeling aside to reveal bone and desiccated organs; producing a putrid smell. Your muscles are withered, movements slow and jagged, reflexes poor. All your bodily functions have ceased. The plague that animates your body, blights the ground you walk on; turning vegetative life into blackened chaff. Your pupil-less eyes glow with dim, white ghostlight. Maggots, leeches, lice and other parasitic creatures infest you. Your unable to heal without magical aid. The natural world and the Light no longer respond to you (positive energy in fact hurts while negative energy heals). Animals instinctively and violently hate you; especially dogs. You can be turned, rebuked or even commanded by powerful positive or negative energy forces. And while necromantic magic keeps you somewhat preserved, natural decay still proceeds (just at a slower rate).

But not all is bad, you are immortal. Immune to sleep, charms, fear, paralysis and poison. Resistant to shadow magic and cold. Not bound to mortal inconveniences such as the need to breathe, eat or drink. Capable of employing incredible strength and unyielding stamina. Your skin while rotting, is quite tough because of the plague’s effects and for those infected while alive; it’s even tougher. And while you can’t heal under normal circumstances, the forsaken have learned from ghouls and abominations to devour flesh; metabolizing it to regain their strength. As well opt to employ priests of the Forgotten Shadow for “repairs”. And finally, if those nasty parasitic creatures are bothersome then spew them all over your opponent; creating a disgusting cloud of infestation infecting them with a lingering disease.

As for the mind and spirit (as both are one now), its a little more tricky. As their condition, is less defined than the body and more up to you the player. But either way, here’s the basics.

The plague has not just rotted your body but your mind. It has torn away your memories, instilling both a lack of morality and defiance of the ordinary social customs. In short, the longer you are undead, the more insane and evil you’ll become. As the plague still tears away at your mind each day until no trace of your personality is left. Leaving you as mindless as a ghoul.

Luckily, the unique properties of the metamagical plague has made you more special than the ordinary zombie. Because while most zombies take years to retain sentience, you did so immediately. And may of even retained your original personality along with your memories. Making your descent into madness a much slower one, allowing you to retain much of your humanity. Though by gaining sentience earlier, you also suffer much more mental trauma and as a result; cause things to even out a bit.

But what does all this mean for your character, why does the condition of their body & mind/spirit matter?

Consider the state of your body. Its dead and has no sort of physical stimuli. Yes, you don’t feel pain (except on a metaphysical level with Holy magic) but you feel nothing good to. Not the rich taste of food, a cool breeze on your skin or the feeling of your body when you feel joy. These feelings are just mere ideas (based on your memory) and just serve to remind you of your time amongst the living. Then there is just the appearance and goings on of the body. Because how would you feel having a rotting body? Having parasitic creatures feed off you on a daily basis, killing the very land you walk upon, striking fear into the living. Having to cannibalize and use dark magics to keep yourself together or being trapped in a lifeless cold body, that you so desperately want to get out of.

Next is your mind and spirit. No one could describe the feeling the plague has on it but to say it feels as though your dying, would not be too far off. Your memories slowing burning away, and who you are becoming less apparent much like a person with Alzheimer’s. Making holding onto your sanity difficult to say the least. But if you managed to do so then the additional (albeit short) trauma you suffered while you were forced to witness your body carry out the will of Lich King, inflicting unspeakable horrors (perhaps even on the people you loved) would surely serve as the “last straw” for you.

So would you be driven insane? Lose your morality, become evil? Yes and no.

One the one hand, who could blame you for becoming such. The “evil” or “immoral” acts you commit are as necessary and natural to you as breathing was when you were living. You were forced to suffer a kind of violation, that left a mark not just on your body but your soul. The living (reminding you of what you lost) may instill such hatred & rage in you similar to, if not more so than ghosts and other tortured spirits. What moved you when you were alive to love or hate simply don’t bother you as your physically unaffected or it just doesn’t create the same emotions as it once did. And what feelings you do have slowly wither away along with your memory and what remain, more or less dominate the rest. So feelings of anger or revenge would cloud your judgment more than the living.  Explaining why undead are so devious & untrustworthy as they are dominated by the desire to truly live by the policy of “by any means necessary” to reach their goals. Which is why they even think to create another plague as well as take up necromancy, both of which they despised greatly at the time of their emancipation. And finally while you may be immortal, as Owen Harper put it, “I get to die forever” (he by the way is a great example of how one feel and act in undeath).  And really, knowing you get to die forever surely have a great effect on your outlook in life.

But wait, I said yes and no. Because while most of the race could be considered evil, the forsaken cannot be thought of in purely dualistic terms. As though they may be undead, the forsaken are still inherently human. Thus some will still be good beings, regardless of what comes with unlife. Managing to hold on to their memories through sheer will. Seeking redemption, even though they know they’re barred from it. Creating a tragic nobility, that could be argued is the only truly genuine form that exists. As is comes not from duty, religion, or custom but from a decision born purely of free will.

And we can see this in Roberick Dartfall, who seeks to reform (from within) what evil he see’s forming in the forsaken. Or those who have chosen to leave entirely like Leonid Barthalomew the Revered of the Argent Dawn, Kegan Darkmar or Trevor; who aspires to join Leonid.

But even for those not necessarily as noble, hold on to their humanity in the hope they can be cured. Acting as if undeath, is simply an illness that merely requires treatment. And with the Horde healers who work tirelessly to find a cure as well as one case of a sentient undead (High Inquisitor Fairbanks) being restored to life. The hope while not great, is strong enough.

— —

So as you can see, their biology is quite a big factor in who they are. And luckily there is quite a bit of wiggle room for deciding how to play your forsaken character (at least mentally).

For you could decide to keep your humanity to such a degree that you will not cannibalize or use dark magics to restore your health. Opting to only use potions and other remedies, or even go as far to stitch up your own wounds so not to fall apart. Or you could see no need to be good because of your condition, lacking motivation to take the high road; even explaining away you lack of morals based on your lack of memory of such standards. Or if playing a priest, you may decide to not learn/use Holy magic due to not being able to use it and even if you could, it would hurt you. And of course, you can have lots of fun with their bodies. From losing a part of you to being the unfortunate guinea pig of a gnome like a troll or being absolutely disgusting. And even treating the parasites on your body as pets, friends or even family of all things.

And most of all, one of the beauties of the undead is that they can do two things well. First, they can play straight from level 1 with ease by explaining the lack of memory has robbed them of their past life’s skills or that they must start anew as what they were in the past is unavailable to them in undeath. And the second, they can be a Mary Sue without any inhibition. Because an undead, truly can keep coming back forever until its obliterated.

So enjoy your forsaken. But keep in mind, they are not emotionless and just feel differently. Nor are they invincible and that some of their immunities & resistances are not represented in-game. And finally, the level of rot to both their bodies & mind is really up to you. As there is no set rule to just how long it all takes and much of it may depend on the particular strength of will of your characters.


  1. Depending on just how far gone they were supposed to be when they pledged themselves to the Lich King – the game is a little hazy on that one – some of this could probably apply to death knights, too.

  2. While this is interesting in theory, not many Undead in game are like described in the article. Many Forsaken have kept their extraordinary intelligence (even though logically the brain would be the first thing to decay). While their muscles are rotten, they are not what makes them move. Dark magic keeps them “alive” and like this an Undead may move even faster than a living human.

    On a side-note, it’s a shame that people always regard the Undead who left the Forsaken as “noble”. Normal Forsaken show gratitude and even selflessness as well. There are more nice Undead under the rule of Sylvannas than the ones who broke away (maybe because they track down and decimate all who do it… but still).

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