Undead are once-living creatures dropped at a horrifying state of undeath through the practice of necromantic magic or some unholy curse. Undead include walking corpses, like vampires and zombies, also as bodiless spirits, such as ghosts and specters.
Two sorts of undead that player characters will encounter often at low levels are skeletons and zombies. Both are (usually) former humanoids, raised from death through necromancy to act as minions without discretion or personality. Their compulsion is obedience to the orders of their controller, which usually involves killing interlopers.
- Casting Time: 1 minute
- Range: 10 feet
- Components: V S M (One clay pot filled with grave dirt, one clay pot filled with brackish water, and one 150 GP black
onyx stone for each corpse)
- Duration: Instantaneous
- Classes: Cleric, Warlock, Wizard
When idle, a skeleton will revert to habitual behaviors from its former life (the Monster Manual offers, as an example, the skeleton of a former miner miming digging with a pick), while a zombie will just stand around. Both are literal in their interpretations of instructions and lack independent problem-solving ability, though skeletons have a neater time circumventing obvious obstacles. And both will fight until they’re destroyed, no matter the quantity or quite damage they’ve taken or the strength of the opposition.
How a skeleton fights will depend upon how it might have fought in its previous life. A former archer, as an example, will instinctively know to take care of a particular range from its targets (40 to 80 feet, if possible). A former duelist will occasionally use the Dodge action to avoid incoming blows from multiple targets or the Disengage action to relocate to more favorable ground. Most of the time, though, skeletons are former guards or other shlubs and can take an easy, direct approach to melee fighting: engage, swing sword, repeat.
Zombies retain no vestige of their former selves. They approach their targets by the foremost direct path, albeit this suggests marching straight through an environmental hazard. They won’t devour a dropped weapon (and if they’re not carrying one within the first place, they never will, unless their controller orders them to).
Undead Fortitude: If damage reduces the zombie to 0 Hit Points, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of 5+the damage taken, unless the damage is radiant or from a critical hit. On a hit, the zombie drops to 1 hit point instead.
Slam: Melee Weapon Attack: +3 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6 + 1) bludgeoning damage.
Once the shadow attacks successfully, it not has the power to cover until it moves out of view again (unless the PCs are foolish enough to be stumbling around in darkness without dark vision), and this is often where its compulsion comes into play: once it latches on to a PC, it’ll keep draining that PC’s strength, although slipping away for an additional coup de main could be simpler. What has the facility to form a shadow consider what it’s doing? Probably nothing but radiant damage, being struck by a magical weapon, or a cleric or paladin’s Turn Undead feature. If one among these is used against it, it’ll Disengage (action), move out of view, Hide (bonus action), and await its victim to return within striking distance again.