Hallowe’en is just around the corner and in the spirit of the occasion we wanted to look at undead and how to use them in your campaign. Of particular interest are intelligent undead and how you as a DM can use those interests to your advantage.
Vampires and lichs hold a special place in D&D lore. Some of the greatest villains have been drawn from their ranks. This is due to their longevity, access to resources and single minded desire to complete their objectives.
As a DM these are motivations that you can use to create compelling villains surrounded by an engaging story. The undead allow you to weave a story that spans centuries, embroiling your PCs in unraveling the plot.
Before moving forward I should mention that the Open Grave sourcebook released by Wizards of the Coast is full of great information to assist you in creating your undead villain. So let’s take a closer look at how you can use intelligent undead, intelligently.
Time Is On Their Side
Undead such as vampires and lichs are effectively immortal. As long as they aren’t killed by adventurers and don’t actively put themselves in harms way, they are assured of a very long existence as an undead creature. This gives them centuries to concot plots and pursue their desires. Undead of this nature take a very long view of things. Failure of their plans doesn’t result in drastic measures, it results in re-examining their errors and starting things anew.
For this reason, intelligent undead should be a thorn in the PCs side long before the PCs are ready or able to confront them. These undead have no real reason to actively seek out the PCs for direct confrontation. Instead they should pull upon their vast resources and have their minions deal with the PCs.
Social Skill Challenges
Intelligent undead, or undead with souls as Open Grave puts it, make excellent subjects to use in social skill challenges; especially vampires who can masquerade as humans quite easily. This gives you the opportunity to introduce your undead villain to the PCs and not have them be aware of the true motivations behind the encounter.
Intelligent Undead in Combat
Villains with long life spans aren’t likely to put themselves in situations where a single lucky roll from a PC might result in their own destruction. If the intelligent undead is engaged in its own lair then the task before the PCs should be even more difficult. After all, if the vampire’s lived in this castle for centuries then it stands to reason that he’s had plenty of time to fortify his defenses and protect himself.
When face-to-face combat does eventually happen an escape route is always on hand. In most cases the PCs will be fighting the villain on their own turf and you should be sure to use that to the villain’s advantage.
Using intelligent undead is a great way to introduce a recurring villian into your campaign. However, these NPCs need to be used with care. They are not throw away mobs, rather they should be handled with care and should cause your PCs endless amounts of grief before their demise is ultimately met.
How have you used intelligent undead in your campaigns? Did your PCs feel a sense of accomplishment when they finally vanquished their foe?