Friday, March 3, 2017

Undead Revisited [RPG]

"The dead will rise!" warns the back of Undead Revisited, a 64-page book in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting line.  You know what you're getting yourself into from the title alone: entries on several undead monsters (ten of them, in fact).  Each of the entries is six pages long, and consists of an overview/introduction to the monster and then sections on Ecology (where they live), Habitat & Society (what they're like), Campaign Role (the best ways to use them in a game), Treasure (what stuff they have, which for most undead isn't much), Variants (different, often more powerful, versions of the base creature), On Golarion (where they can be found in the official Pathfinder campaign setting), and a sample monster.  The inside front cover of the book gives a picture and brief description of the ten monsters covered, while the inside back cover is a reproduction of the cover art sans text.  The book starts with a two-page introduction, the only valuable part of which is a "Creating Undead" table which summarizes and expands on the methods required to create various monsters using the create undead or create greater undead spells.  Before moving on to each entry, a one-line summary of my general thoughts on the book:  competent, but bland and inessential.  Now, on to the monsters:

1.  Bodaks: Physical manifestations of the cosmic horror faced by mortals on the Outer Planes.  Contains rules for making bodaks larger or smaller than Medium-sized, and for bodaks with multiple heads.  The sample monster is the Taker of Eyes, a bodak antipaladin with a cool backstory (a former knight of Lastwall transformed by the evils he witnessed).

2.  Devourers: Interesting undead that draw power from the souls they trap and consume in their skeletal frames.  Variants include former devils, former daemons, and former demons, each of which gets a new suite of spell-like abilities very different than the norm.  The sample devourer is Barasthaga, a CR 20 devourer oracle!  Not something you'd like to meet in a dark alley, and powerful enough to become a major villain for a high-level campaign.

3.  Graveknights:  Undead who take over the physical forms of any mortal who dons their cursed armor.  These are an interesting combination of monster and trap, and a good surprise for PCs who think they've seen everything.  The section on variants describes the procedure for someone who wants to become a Graveknight.  The sample monster is Lictor Shokneir, a CR 16 former Hellknight who artwork looks about as cliched "evil knight" as it gets.

4.  Liches:  Arch-wizards who have gained eternal life through undeath.  Like with most of the entries, I just didn't think there was anything here that counted as liches "revisited"--everything fit the classic fantasy understanding of the lich.  The variants section doesn't provide a template, but instead talks a little bit about demiliches.  The sample lich is a cleric of Orcus.

5.  Mohrgs:  Weird undead consisting of purple entrail-like blobs in the chest cavity of cadavers.  With their ability to create zombies, the book notes they could be a good "boss" for mid-level adventures as the PCs have to try to figure out why waves of undead keep emerging.  Four variant mohrgs are provided:  desert mohrgs, fleshwalker mohrgs (capable of appearing alive), frost mohrgs, and "mohrg-mothers" (a frankly ghastly concept arisen when a pregnant woman is executed).  The sample is a Demonic Mohrg.

6.  Nightshades:  A collection of related, incredibly powerful undead with the ability to summon and control others.  No real variants are provided, but I love the artwork for the sample nightshade, the "Nightskitter."  It really is the stuff of nightmares, and the picture alone should scare your players.

7.  Raveners:  Self-made, skeletal dragons.  From what I can tell of their campaign role, being undead doesn't seem to make them act all of that different than living dragons.  Anyway, two variants: the Nightmare Ravener and the Thassilonian Ravener.  I quite liked these, though I have a fondness for Thassilon.  The sample ravener (Vashikyan) has an ancient green dragon as a base, and is CR 19.  Kind of bland, frankly.

8.  Shadows:  The souls of the greedy turned into incorporeal manifestations of darkness and death.  The book aptly notes that they make good guardians of ancient tombs and treasure vaults, as they have no particular desire to leave.  The variants are  "Distorted Shadows" (shadows with reach, which is actually a frightening prospect!), "Hidden Ones" (even stealthier than normal), "Plague Shadows" (which spread a supernatural disease), "Shadetouch Shadows" (partial corporeal), and "Vanishing Shadows" (gains the effect of blink).  I quite liked the variants, as they're very easy to use, fit the flavour of shadows, and provide just enough of a variation to surprise the jaded adventurer.  The sample shadow is a real beast:  a CR 21 shadow ancient red dragon!  This would be a classic "end of campaign" boss at the bottom of a megadungeon.  It's got five attacks a round, each of which does 1d8 Strength drain and a breath weapon that does 20d10 fire damage.  Nasty.

9. Spectral Dead:  This is more of a "catch-all" entry for a variety of spectral undead, like banshees,  spectres, allips, and wraiths.  The variants are a "Corpulent Spectre", a "Scribbling Allip", and a "White Wraith."  The sample is "Carak, Blade of Zyphus" a unique allip.  I'm not sure if combining all of these various types of undead into a single entry did any of them justice.

10.  Wights:  Animated corpses that can drain the life of mortals.  Before reading this book, I never really got a sense of wights as anything other than undead that drain levels.  That hasn't changed, unfortunately.  Scary for low-level adventurers, surely.  The variants are a "Dust Wight" and a "Mist Wright", and they're reasonably interesting.  The sample is a CR 9 "Wight Lord" which would make a good undead lieutenant for a mid-level story arc.

Some of the undead in this book are monsters that long-time gamers will be familiar with (liches, shadows, wights, and ghosts), and I'm sorry to say I didn't come away with any particularly new or exciting insights into them  Some of the other undead were new to me, but were only marginally interesting.  There weren't any of the moments I look for in books like this.  No "I can't wait to use this!" excitement.  I notice that nine authors are credited for the ten different monsters in this book, and I wonder if the freelancers were assigned monsters without being asked if they had anything fresh and flavourful to bring to the table.  The entries are serviceable, but forgettable, and those words sum up best how I feel about the book.

1 comment:

Juricon said...

Ah ... good ol' undead. I don't have a ton of plans to put undead into my campaign right now. Wanting to continue to keep a more "real" feel to things in the beginning and slowly get more "fantastic".

Got the first couple recaps up. Things were better in night 2 than night 1 as people got more comfortable with things ... but we nearly had our first death as well...