Angel Explains: The Undead

Animating the Dead

Although some scientists have tried to build elaborate machines to bring back the dead, few have been successful. Most end up with burned, battered corpses and that lingering smell of charred flesh in their laboratories. Generally, it's far easier to use magic instead of science to raise the dead.

Almost all forms of the undead are animated by Dark Magic (magic powered by the Dark Affinity). I say almost only because I have encountered once or twice bodies that were reanimated by magic that clearly were not wholly alive either (undead being the applicable term). Dark Magic is best suited to animating the dead, so, unless stated otherwise, you can assume that is the animating magic.

How does Dark Magic animate the dead? Remember that I stated before that all matter in the cosmos contains magic. When a corpse is animated by the magic, it's actually animated by its own internal magic. The spell-caster that "created" the undead being ignites the spark within the corpse, and from then on, the magic within generates itself and powers the undead body.

Really, when you think about it, it's rather fascinating.

Common Properties of Undead

Most undead share common properties, even if their physical forms seem quite different. The most common feature is a lack of life. In the body of an undead being, hearts do not beat, lungs are not used for oxygen (only for speech, as vocal cords still require the air), food is not naturally digested. The body is just a corpse, it's the magic that sustains it, not natural internal resources.

All undead feed on the life force of others. A common example in this case are vampires, who drink the blood of their victims (more about vampires later). Zombies feed on just about whatever they can find. Even ghosts and other forms of spectral undead are known to feed from the life force of living creatures (usually through spectral contact). The life force is the only resource they require, as it continues to fuel their internal Dark Magic, which keeps them alive.

All undead are exceptionally hard to kill. Since they're already dead, there aren't a lot of things that you can do to the undead that will stop them from continuing onwards. In just about every case, however, beheading seems to do the trick nicely. The bodies are unable to function without the head, and the head seems to need the magic resources of the entire body to continue functioning.

Below are some of the common forms of undead I have encountered. This is, by no means, a complete list:


Zombies are reanimated, unintelligent, shambling corpses. They are the simplest undead a sorcerer can create, since they really aren't all that impressive, magically. Let's face it, zombies really much of anything -- a single, shambling corpse is creepy, sure, but not that hard to get around. You can run (or in my case, fly). It can't. Guess who wins.

No, the power of the zombies (and their greatest strength) is in their numbers. Creating a single zombie is easy. So why stop with just one? Why not 10, or 100? An army of zombies is hard to fight, and almost impossible to overcome.

As I mentioned above, zombies feed on the flesh of the living. The Dark Magic within the zombie feeds of the life force from the flesh the zombie ingests. The zombie has no use for the flesh once the life force has been consumed, and so it will, eventually... "eject" the half chewed meat chunks from its natural digestive orifice. Lovely, eh?

The only way to kill a zombie is to behead it. Fire will work if it takes out the head, but until the head is consumed by the flames, all you have is a corpse that's on fire and walking around. Any limb that is removed from the body will stop functioning. Interestingly, if any limb is removed from the body and then attached back on, it will start functioning again. This does not apply to the head. Once the head is removed the corpse is truly dead.

As a note, skeletons are actually a type of zombie. They are a touch more resilient (as they have almost no weakness to fire), but they aren't any more intelligent or speedy.


Two different creatures share the name of ghoul. One are really animalistic vampires (which will be discussed later). The other type are also known as "grave revenants." These ghouls are powerful, semi-intelligent zombies. The are exceedingly strong, fast, and capable of some high thought.

Ghouls are the next natural step for a sorcerer to make, once they've gotten tired of zombies. They are harder to make, but arguably the benefits outweigh the difficulty. Unlike with zombies, you don't need 100 ghouls to be effective (although it is damn impressive). 4 or 5 ghouls can do the work of 100 zombies, primarily because they are fast. Very fast. Those times where you hear people talking about "fast zombies," usually they mean ghouls.

Like zombies, the only way to kill a ghoul is by beheading. As a fun trivia fact, some ghouls have smartened up about this and wear protective armored collars to prevent the easy removal of their heads.


Ghosts are one of the more interesting types of the undead. They are the reanimated life force of a corpse, sans the actual body. They are quite difficult to make, and arguably, they are too risky for most to attempt.

The greatest failing of ghosts is that most, once created, are little more than lost spectral energies without intelligence. These ghosts are naturally rooted to the area where they were created. They "float" around, haunting these areas and giving anyone that visits a bad case of the heeby-jeebies.

Intelligent ghosts (those that are animated with their minds intact), thought, aren't rooted to any one spot, being allowed to traverse the countryside at will. However, in almost all cases, these ghosts have a great anger within themselves. They really don't like being dead. They don't like having bodies. They don't like... much. So they get angry and they attack anything and everything.

There are, of course, some ghosts that mean no harm and seem to have great intelligence, but these are quite rare. Most times when you hear stories of that ghostly maiden that appears many years after her death to visit her family, it's just a made up story for the campfire.

Ghosts can only be destroyed by magic. Lacking a head to lop off, you have to snuff out their magical animating force. Ghosts are strongest in darkness, but they are also easiest to see in the dark. In light, they are hard to see (the light renders them near-invisible).


Last, and most popular on the list, are vampires. There are, actually, three types of vampires, all inter-related to one-another.

Firstly, there is the common vampire, also known as the servant or slave. These vampires were created by a more powerful vampire and serve that vampire. Quite literally they are under that vampire's thrall and must do the vampire's bidding (and sometimes his laundry). Sometimes a slave vampire can gain up enough power to become the next type, a Master Vampire.

Master vampires are powerful, centuries-old vampires that are not under the thrall of any other master. This is a key distinction that must be emphasized: some vampires can be centuries-old and still not have enough power to be their own master. Vampires have to have a lot of power to be masters.

The third type of vampires are the animalistic vampires (aka, the ghouls). These vampires come about either because a vampire has not been able to feed in quite a long time (weeks or months, sometimes years), and their intelligence has melted away, leaving an empty mind and a powerful body. The other way an animalistic vampire can come about is if a vampire mates (does the nasty without protection -- so, you know, the really nasty). Vampires cannot normally have children, but in some rare instances, a pregnancy occurs. Out of these pregnancies, 99 out of every 100 will be nasty, animalistic ghouls.

All types of vampire share common powers and weaknesses (although some vampires have certain powers, some have others -- the Dark Magics that animate them seem to grant powers at random). Vampires can: move quickly, leap very high (almost like flight), change forms (bat, wolf, cat, etc.), have animals under their thrall, have humans under their thrall.

All vampires can (potentially) be weak against: sunlight, holy artifacts, garlic, fire. The best way to kill a vampire is to behead it, although for weaker vampires, a stake through the heart can suffice. This will not work on Master Vampires, however.

The Undead of Light

Although I won't go into detail, as I stated before, there are some types of undead that are animated not by Dark Magic. I once encountered a... well the best way to describe it would have been a ghoul animated by Light Magic, but it never attacked me. It was quick, and intelligent, but quite clearly dead.

I was not able to spend much time around it, as it was skittish around the living, but it was a curious discovery.

Pop Quiz

  1. How many types of undead are there? List every single type of undead known to man in alphabetical order.
  2. Detail a battle strategy for taking on 20 zombies. You only have yourself on your side, but you are allowed to allot yourself 100 gold pieces worth of equipment.
  3. If a ghoul and a zombie arm wrestled, who'd win? How about a ghoul and a vampire? What about a vampire and Batman? Make sure to explain your answer.
  4. How many vampires could you behead with a machete before it needed to be sharpened? This is a practical, so please show your work.
  5. Use dark magic to make an army of zombies. Take an hour and choreograph a modern dance number with them. You will be graded on how synchronized they are and the difficulty of the dance.