Putting the Scare back into the UndeadOne of the recurring challenges in D&D is that the Turning ability of clerics tends to take a lot of drama out of encounters with the undead. As a result, they normally do not garner the kind of fear and loathing that the undead ought to. If a cleric (or clerics) get into mid-level and higher, then one has to be creative in order to make undead encounters even interesting.
One of the reasons that I have always liked the FF is that the undead found therein have some bite. Given a little bit of fiddling, undead in a Basic Edition that uses the FF for its monsters could prove to be very frightening indeed.
Let’s begin with a list of all the undead in the FF:
- Coffer Corpse°
- Crypt Thing*†
- Eye of Fear and Flame*
- Sheet Ghoul§
- Sheet Phantom§
- Skeletal Warrior
- Sons of Kyuss
- * = though the description seems to indicate undead, these are not specifically described as undead.
- † = these creatures are not really meant to be wandering monsters — crypt things and poltergeists are tied to a specific encounter area; revenants are tied to a specific encounter type.
- § = sheet phantoms and sheet ghouls do not strike me as undead creatures, despite the fact that they are described as such. Their powers and abilities are much more akin to slimes and oozes. Indeed, the sheet phantom is said to be related to the lurker above and the sheet ghoul functions much more like the non-undead yellow musk zombie than a ghoul. Therefore, I am going to treat them this way because it makes for better undead.
- ≠ = these creatures either are completely immune to Turning or there are circumstances when Turning will not work on them.
- ° = these might appear on Wandering Monster Tables in a Basic edition.
This leaves the low power undead spectrum to the Coffer Corpse and the Heucuva. Check out their nastiness:
- The Coffer Corpse can only be hit by magic weapons.
- The Coffer Corpse is treated as a wraith on the Turn tables.
- The Coffer Corpse can cause fear.
- The Huecuva can only be hit by silver or magic weapons.
- The Huecuva is treated as a wight on the Turn tables.
- The Huecuva can polymorph self 3x per day.
- The Huecuva can give its victims a nasty disease.
There are a few interesting consequences to this:
- Despite a complete absence of lycanthropes, silvered weapons would still be on the equipment list because they might do damage to the undead.
- First level clerics are incapable of Turning the undead. At second level, they can Turn a Huecuva on an 11.
- The undead do not drain levels, but they still have some diseased ways of making you either dead or one of their own.
It must be noted that this renders clerics, as written in B/X, very weak at low levels. They will have no ability to Turn undead and no spells at first level, reducing the incentive to play one. I realize that this will suit many folks in the OSR and will also better justify the low XP requirements for the class. Personally, I would be tempted to use the LL version of the cleric, which at least gets a spell at first level; however, given the mechanical distance this undead list implies for clerics from those of other editions, I would be inclined to chuck it all and use Talysman’s non-spellcasting version where clerics do everything using the Turning mechanic.
In other words, the undead are properly scary and the cleric becomes its own unique miracle-working class rather than something somewhere in-between a fighter and a magic-user.