The rationale behind undead creatures has always been something that I’ve felt was best left ignored. The last time I tried to develop an all-inclusive explanation to handle the undead I was stumped. How are undead created? Why are some intelligent, scheming creatures while others are mindless, walking dead? How does this affect resurrection? Answers have appeared in various sources over the years but none have really felt right to me. The Shadowfel / Raven Queen cosmology is interesting but really doesn’t fit with my vision. I thought it was time to have another go at it.
First off, I’ve created my own pantheon of gods. They are all entirely new. One of them, Perull (similar to “peril”) is a neutral evil god of the undead. Priests of Perull have various spells capable of animating the dead. At early levels they can animate corpses to create skeletons and zombies. As they gain levels, they gain new spells that can turn corpses into progressively more powerful undead.
The Link Between Body & Soul
If a creature is killed, normally it must be resurrected within 24 hours (via my modified versions of raise dead and resurrection). Otherwise, the soul will pass on to whatever lies beyond death. Except in the case where the creature has undergone a soul-binding ritual in which case after 24 hours the body and soul are reunited and resurrected at the bind stone.
However, if the creature’s corpse is used to create an undead creature, the individual may not be resurrected until the undead creature is destroyed. Similarly, the bindstone is unable to reunite the body and soul as the body is currently in use. Also, the original creature’s soul retains a sort of connection to its former body and therefore is blocked from moving on by the undead possession of its body.
This last restriction can cause further complications. If a creature dies and its corpse is used to create an undead creature before the soul has moved on, the soul is trapped on this plane unable to interact with anyone or anything. There is still a connection of sorts between the soul and its former body (which is now an animated undead creature). The energy that resides within the undead body passes through this connection and affects the disembodied soul.
Over time, one of a number of things can happen, depending on the type of undead creature involved and the level and temperament of the original creature. One possibility is that the soul bonds with the undead creature resulting in a far more powerful, now sentient, undead creature. Another possibility is that the disembodied soul grows strong enough to sever the connection to its former body and develop powers of its own as a non-corporeal creature such as a ghost.
Once the undead creature is destroyed, the soul is no longer blocked from its original body and may be resurrected (so long as 24 hours have not yet passed since the creature was first killed). If 24 hours has passed, the soul would then pass into the afterlife or, if the individual had been soul-bound, be resurrected at the bind stone.
If the disembodied soul has bonded with the undead creature, the soul is released to the afterlife when the undead creature is destroyed. There is no chance of resurrecting the original creature. If the soul severed the connection to its former body, it is completely unaffected by the destruction of the undead creature. It is now a separate disembodied creature all its own. Once the disembodied soul is destroyed, it moves on to the afterlife. In this case also, the original creature may not be resurrected.
Lastly, there is one finally type of undead. By means of a ritual, a creature may chose to trade its life for the immortality of undeath. These powerful lich’s retain both their body and their soul, as well as the memories and abilities of their previous life. Destroying a lich is no easy matter, but once destroyed, the original creature may not be resurrected and the soul moves on to the afterlife.
In my campaign, there is no method of resurrecting a creature whose soul has passed on nor is there a way to talk to the dead. Therefore, there is no way of knowing what happens when a soul passes on, if anything.