Hello loyal viewers, I’m finally back and damn to schedules, I’m gonna surprise you with the reviews from now on! Today we’ll be looking at Undead, one of the oft-nicknamed “one word product” series by AEG. As you can guess, it’s 128 pages on nothing but undead. Let’s dig in then, shall we?
Our first chapter, “That Which Cannot Live, That Which Cannot Die”, is in its majority a philosophical discussion about the religious connotations of undead. While it’s interesting fluff, it’s also a bit unnerving seeing someone fill up droves of pages discussing whether an undead’s soul is corroded or whether or not a vampire can get into heaven. Don’t worry, though, that’s not the entirety of the chapter. There’s an interesting start to non-philosophical fluff with rumors of a city entirely run by undead, as well as a little look at the less structured “packs” of the ghouls. Did you know that they have a ritualized feeding group?
This chapter is where we get the meat of the game, starting out with skill uses. The first is Craft (Autopsy). While the rules are very nice, I must ask…why the hell is Craft the skill used? Wouldn’t it be better under a Knowledge skill use, or even an inverse of Heal if we want to go out on a limb? Speaking of Heal, we get rules for using Heal to patch up the undaed (o….kaaaay, weird, but I guess it takes all kinds) as well as Knowledge (Religion) as a way to learn proper burial ceremonies that prevent animate dead from working as easily on the body(s) buried. Next come the feats…I bet you’re expecting some poisons, necromancy boons, and such, right? WRONG!! The feats are very…Clericy, to say the least. Other than Sixth Sense (which lets you “see” incorporeal undead), all of the feats are dedicated to buffing warding and smiting of the undead. Maybe our old friend prestige class can help rectify that, mayhaps?
Champion of the Dead: This 10-level prestige class is the ideal undead, the undead’s undead…he commands with an iron fist, both inspiring his legions with morale bonuses as well as warding himself from attacks by lesser undead enemies and able to negate a Cleric’s turning. This is a really nasty Cleric-killer NPC class that would be brutal on a lich or other powerful sorcerous undead.
Chirurgeon: This 10-level prestige class isn’t for the undead…heck, it isn’t even for evil (it can be any nongood, but that includes neutral stances too). A chirurgeon specializes in mending wounds of the undead, applying enhancing grafts onto the living, and creating a type of greater flesh golem that only they can craft. The class’s final ability, being able to transfer a brain into a flesh golem and revive it in its new shell via a lightning spell, is an obvious homage to Doctor Frankenstein. I like this class…I can see it having a lot of story potential, as well as giving good reason for utilizing the chirurgic horror template from the Book of Templates Deluxe Edition (but that’s a review for another day… 😛 ).
Dying: This 10-leveller requires being stricken by an undead disease such as mummy rot to enter into. In exchange for levels of stupidly strong resistance to fear and the undead, the finale is….death. Yep. You reach level 10 in this class, you die (albeit sometimes rising as an undead….at the GM’s discretion. Mwuahahahaha). This is definitely a roleplaying opportunity class.
Exorcist: The Exorcist can banish possessing incorporeal undead, place auto-turn undeads on monuments and holy sites via wards, and can entrap the undead in prisons of holy symbols. Standard stuff, really.
Faith Hunter: The Faith Hunter focuses on vampires and vampires in specific. Her abilities are keyed into them in particular, class features including being immune to a vampire’s draining attack due to having “holy blood” granted by her deity, can turn vampires as per a Cleric, can compel a vampire in gaseous form back into corporeality, and has a progression in the sneak at…err… “Stake Attack” special quality. While this is a niche class, it ties into the pop culture fascination with vampire hunters well, so I can see it getting use in vamp-heavy adventures.
Hunter of the Fallen: Yet another undead fighter class. This one gets no fancy turning or shiny lights, but instead gets the ability to innately sense and track the undead, spell resistance against unholy magic, immunity to fear effects, and cannot be raised as an undead. Of all the hunter classes, I like this one the most, because they have no paladin stigma. Hell, they cannot have a lawful alignment, so they certainly can’t have a paladin stigma.
Knight of the Eternal Eye: These folks take “undying devotion” to a whole new level. They are so unswayable in their loyalty that nothing can break those bonds. For class abilities, the knight becomes undead, gains vampire, shadow, and ghost-like abilities, and has to constantly fight evil because his undeath “cost him his immortal soul”. This reiterates the book’s main flaw…it is obsessed with hammering “undead are evil no matter what, ‘kay?” down your throat. I disagree with this mantra…anyone remember the positive-energy mummy pharaohs from the earliest editions? I miss the positive-energy mummies.
Paladin of the Pale: These fellows are prestige paladins that follow a goodly god of death that hates the eeeebil undead. Yeah, I don’t care to go into more rehashing for the description here.
Puppet: This NPC prestige class essentially turns the taker into the familiar of a big undead such as a vampire lord or lich. This is an interesting alternative to spawn, since this being is still human and as such doesn’t automatically respond on the heroes’ “undead radar”. For a less unsavory undead master, I imagine a “Puppet” would be the undead’s envoy to the living.
Raider: These fellows are essentially prestige rogues with sneak attacking exchanged for the ability to sense living things and scrying. What does this have to do with the undead? …I dunno, I was hoping you’d tell me.
Risen: See Knight of the Eternal Eye. Change it up a bit but leave the whole “succumb to evil” part, add it to non-lawfuls, rinse, lather, repeat.
Sacred Theurgist: These people study necromancy in order to combat it by “unmaking” undead. Oh, and they can summon undead without being as vile as the book insinuates necromancers are because they “respectfully” summon them. Yeah. Whatever. *Rolls eyes*
Unbeating Heart: Vile assassin-cleric. Yawn.
Wasteland Druid: Eeeeeebil druids who are considered blasphemers because they feel the balance between life, death, and undeath must be preserved. They can wildshape into undead and their animal companion transforms into a wight version of itself. This could be an interesting class if the “always Neutral Evil blasphemer” stigma is removed.
The chapter ends with an uninspiring “hunter’s kit” section. Sp far, so good and bad mixed…
This chapter first deals with the Lords of Gehenna. Here we get the big “explanation” on why undead-creation is evil…the Lords of Undeath are evil themselves, and since they taught necromancy to humanoids it is aberrant and evil. The lords of death and undead include Demortus the Eternal (lord of the undead), Gnawbone the Deatheater (lord of ghouls), Lochai the Reaper (guess) Rei Sul Vadoch (lord of “good and natural” death), Necronius (lord of vampires), Nercury (guide of the dead), Selina (lady of incorporeal undead and the only non-evil undead deity), and Shofayt (judge of the dead). Plague, Rot, Rulership, Spirit, and Undead fill out the new clerical domains that are garnted by some of the above deities. I won’t go into the spelsl and magic items too much, but suffice to say you can probably guess that most are either necromancy or anti-undead evocations.
Chapters 4 and 5
Chapter 4 deals with undead archetypes/stereotypes. This is a fairly nice chapter, since it does have some non-evil examples (such as “guardian mummy” as a concept) and offers advice for undead PCs, but I won’t go into too much detail…that would spoil the fun of you getting to read it yourself. 😛 Chapter 5 expands on these ideas with campaign concepts for including undead, from classic fantasy to Medieval to Renaissance era to even the present day. Yes, this book gives ideas for modern-day undead usage. Isn’t that kind of them? The locations section is sadly short, though. It pretty much consists of “urbania, ruins, wilderness…there you go. Nothing more partitioned.”
This chapter is essentially a love letter to the creation process for liches and mummies. Nothing much more I can say than that.
Is this book worth your buy? Well, considering that it’s a third the price of, say, WoTC’s Libris Mortis but bordering on 130 pages, I’d say that’s a maybe. Is it without flaws? Naw. The book focuses way too much on making undead “vile stabbity stabbity cleric make shiny lights!” and not enough on the undead themselves. There are no new monsters or monster templates, which takes me aback for a book on undead that seems to tout itself as being THE book of undead. Overall, it’s more of a book you can springboard off of than a book you can use all on its own. 7/10.