Undead creatures are some of my favorite. In Pathfinder and 3.x D&D, the downside is that undead tend to only have a few secondary effects, such as paralysis, energy drain (ability score damage), disease, and fear.
All of those effects are great, but they can get dull and predictable. In addition, paralysis, energy drain, and diseases (if you don’t have a way to cure them on hand) have the potential be devastating. So a few creatures with those abilities means one of them is probably going to ruin a character’s day.
This week, I am providing a few less powerful alternatives to equip to your undead creatures. Replacing some undead creature’s normal effects with these can let you do more to your players without crippling them. Mechanically, these are made for Pathfinder and 3.x D&D, but you can easily tweak the mechanics if you want to use them for another system.
(This is built mechanically for D&D and Pathfinder games, but you can easily tweak the stats and numbers to use it for whatever system you use)
The Aura of Undeath
The stench of undeath lingers upon you. It’s unnatural powers burrow its way beneath your skin. No amount of bathing can remove it, only time or a miracle will lift the wretched odor.
Rather than having ability score damage or drain, have the deathly aura remain on a character. It gives people an unnatural chill when they look at you, your eyes house a darkness unlike that of the living, and your flesh gains the cold, lifeless feel of a corpse.
Each time they are affected, they take a -1 to all charisma-based skills. The penalty isn’t too bad, but it can accumulate and harm their chances of succeeding in nearly any social situation or negotiation in the near future.
This is a temporary effect, but the more time a character spent in a crypt or among the undead, the longer the effect lasts, and the stronger it is. It’s not a curse or a disease, so as the GM, you should decide what can remove this status effect.
Your skin dries and wrinkles. On the outside of your eyes, lines form and deepen with each passing moment. Your bones grow weary. Your back slowly arches forward. Your hair grays and falls from your scalp. The world around you fades as though your eyes have witnessed too much.
This effect does not have to have any mechanical effects. This could purely be cosmetic, allowing the player to roleplay the changes. If you want it to affect a character mechanically, you could age them using the aging effects table. Note that the effects of aging are harsh, especially for a martial class.
Perhaps the character’s skin will slowly regain its youth, or you could make it permanent. If you do make it permanent, I’d suggest knowing beforehand how they could reverse or cure it, either by making it a curse or having someone with knowledge of an herbal remedy.
The Chill of Death
You shiver as if a cold wind dusted your skin, but the chill does not fade. Your skin grows cold to the touch. Your body shakes and your teeth chatter from the unending grip of the cold.
Aside from constantly feeling cold, a character afflicted with the chill of death constantly shakes. The chill of death can cause different problems over time. No single effect is too severe. However, stacking multiple effects of having one effect increase over time can cripple a character.
Here is a list of effects:
- The shakes decrease your ability to aim (-2 to all ranged attacks). If the chill lingers for too long, this penalty can increase.
- The torment of the constant chill keeps you from falling asleep. You must make a save (Fortitude save for Pathfinder and 3.x and constitution save for D&D 5e) or suffer the effects of not having any rest. The difficulty of the save increases by one each night.
- The shivers slow your reaction time, lowering your dexterity bonus to your AC by 1. If the chill lingers for too long, this penalty can increase.
- The cold starts to affect your mind. You take a -2 on any roll that requires concentration. If the chill lingers for too long, this penalty can increase.
- The cold affects your fine motor skills. Take a -2 penalty to any task requiring fine motor skills (such as sleight of hand, tying knots, etc). If the chill lingers for too long, this penalty can increase.
How to afflict characters
The easiest way is to do it the same as normal undead effects: if a character takes damage, they roll a save or suffer the effects.
If you want to change it up, have the effects happen from proximity to those specific undead creatures. Make it an aura effect, forcing all party members to have to deal with the effects. The longer they stay in affected creatures’ auras, the worse it affects them.