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Quietus
2008-10-14, 04:25 AM
There seems to be a notable opinion around the boards regarding why undead - or more specifically, the creation of undead - is an Evil act. This can make for a rather interesting conversation, I think, so here's my take on it. The creation of undead involves :


1) Desecration of a body. Definitely seen as taboo in pretty much every society I can think of. Whether or not this is an evil act will depend greatly on the DM.

2) Animation of said body, by use of negative energy. Negative energy isn't inherently evil in and of itself, but I'm 100% certain I've seen it written in one of the expansion books that doing so "brings Evil into the world". Again, this depends greatly on the DM, but those that would call #1 evil would likely call #2 evil as well.

3) Prevention of resurrection magic. This, in my opinion, is probably the strongest, most subjective argument. All but the highest-level magics (True Resurrection) contain a clause that specifically says that the body to be raised must never have been made into an undead. Interestingly, True Resurrection is also the only one that doesn't require a portion of the body - which suggests that the negative energy used in creating undead somehow prevents resurrection. Either way, no matter what the process or how it affects the world, one thing is certain : Animation of a corpse prevents that person from returning to life in all but the rarest circumstances. It's direct and knowledgeable harm against that person's continued livelyhood, in a way, which IS distinctly Evil.


Any thoughts on what specifically would make the process of raising dead NOT evil, or arguments against those points?

BobVosh
2008-10-14, 05:08 AM
1) It isn't a desecration of the body, it is simply using it for something helpful.

2) Never seen it, but meh. Never understood why negative energy in some books is EEEEEVVVVIIIILLLL and in others is "unaligned."

3) As opposed to ressurrection being an abomination againist nature as what is dead is not meant to be alive. Necromancy is more of using energy to move stuff around.

The Rose Dragon
2008-10-14, 05:16 AM
Oh no, not this again.

We're not sure. No one's sure. The least sure are the creators and editors of D&D. In fact, between 3rd and 3.5, zombies and skeletons, mindless creatures without the [Evil] subtype, were made Always Neutral Evil, which screwed up things even more.

Trying to discuss why undead are evil in D&D and if they even should be evil is like drilling a hole into your head with a plastic coin. It has little use and at the end, it hurts more than it helps.

BobVosh
2008-10-14, 05:31 AM
Oh no, not this again.

We're not sure. No one's sure. The least sure are the creators and editors of D&D. In fact, between 3rd and 3.5, zombies and skeletons, mindless creatures without the [Evil] subtype, were made Always Neutral Evil, which screwed up things even more.

Trying to discuss why undead are evil in D&D and if they even should be evil is like drilling a hole into your head with a plastic coin. It has little use and at the end, it hurts more than it helps.

Don't forget you look stupid doing it.

kamikasei
2008-10-14, 05:52 AM
The least sure are the creators and editors of D&D.

This is the key. The people who create the rules have no clear or consistent idea of what the rules are supposed to represent here, so you won't be able to work backwards to find one. The best you can do is find a few almost-consistent interpretations, pick the one you like, and houserule the things that contradict it.

hamishspence
2008-10-14, 07:58 AM
It began long ago, its not new that making Undead is considered very morally risky.

2nd ed: Animate Dead "Casting this spell is not a good act, and only evil clerics/wizards do this often"

3rd ed: Evil subtype on spell

Late 3rd ed: Vile Darkness: Casting evil spells is an evil act. Creation of undead listed as evil, separately (should have merged them)

3.5 ed: Fiendish Codex: Casting an evil spell is a 1 point Corrupt act (not very high, considering, but a bit indiscriminatory: animating zombie is considered equal to summoning pit fiend)

Being undead, thats not the same thing. Prestige class for undead characters, Savage Species. Rules for undead characters, and repeated statements that not all are evil, Libris Mortis.

Keld Denar
2008-10-14, 02:32 PM
The biggest wrong is that people try to justify the use of undead by saying that they are saving lives/doing good/helping people. As I have said before, evil acts are a slippery slope, and once you justify the use of undead, its only a matter of time before it becomes easy to justify other immoral acts. Most heroic figures don't resort to questionable means to acomplish their daunting tasks. This is considered taking the easy way out, and detracts from the magnitude of the sucess. A real hero wouldn't have to.

Look again to LotR. The fellowship posessed an extremely powerful and evil artifact. At any point, Gandalf, Elrond, Galadril, Tom Bombadil, etc who were relatively powerful figures themselves could have taken the ring, roflstomped Sauron and the rest of Middle Earth with it, and set up the world how they wanted. But they didn't. They realized that the use of the ring would make them just as bad as the conquering Sauron. So, they opted to take the high road and have the ring destroyed, even though it would make the coming battles that much harder. Still, they perservered, and the story was better because of it. That temperence is what makes heroic fantasy heroic.

Now, granted, you can play your D&D any way you want, but using questionable moral means and taking the easy way out has never been an element of heroic fantasy, and is typically an ideal that is preached against with the presence of a minor character that gets smote horribly for such a choice.

Sstoopidtallkid
2008-10-14, 02:46 PM
The question is why Undead are Evil in the first place, though. Yes, the books say they are, but the books also say you can fall into lava and survive for 6 seconds as a 10th level fighter. I'd prefer a justification for why it's a problem.
Desecration of the corpses may be an issue, but then why isn't forcing living bodies(Dominate) to obey you evil? And what about cases where you bought a persons body from them before they died, so their family would be supported after they're gone?
The Negative Energy Plane isn't Evil, Inflict spells aren't Evil, so why is this specific use Evil?
The Resurrection case is the one issue, but generally those spells require a body, so it could just be that animating a body renders it unfit for use after it's destroyed, and of course can't be reanimated when it's in-use already.

The slippery slope argument holds weight only when you accept that the Undead are evil in the first place, which I really don't see any evidence for.

mostlyharmful
2008-10-14, 02:53 PM
The people who create the rules have no clear or consistent idea of what the rules are supposed to represent here, so you won't be able to work backwards to find one.

I respectfully disagree to a certain extent. The designers each had a very specific idea of what udead/negative-energy/Necomancy were supposed to represent. The problem came when none of them agreed with each other and none of them talked to each other either. See the Tome of Necomancy on the old WotC boards for the most coherent examination of Negative Energy and all its implications I've yet read.

kamikasei
2008-10-14, 02:56 PM
The biggest wrong is that people try to justify the use of undead by saying that they are saving lives/doing good/helping people. As I have said before, evil acts are a slippery slope, and once you justify the use of undead, its only a matter of time before it becomes easy to justify other immoral acts.

All this argument says is that, if creating undead is an evil/immoral act, then it remains so even if done for a good purpose. It doesn't make a case for why the creation of undead should be considered evil in and of itself.

edit: Thoroughly ninja'd by Sstoopidtallkid due to lag.


I respectfully disagree to a certain extent. The designers each had a very specific idea of what udead/negative-energy/Necomancy were supposed to represent. The problem came when none of them agreed with each other and none of them talked to each other either. See the Tome of Necomancy on the old WotC boards for the most coherent examination of Negative Energy and all its implications I've yet read.

Well, when I say "the people who create the rules have no clear and consistent idea", and you say "each of them does, but they don't agree", that's not a contradiction. Whether the individual writers at Wizards have this all carefully thought out in their own heads I don't know, but if they haven't reconciled their opposing ideas before encoding them as contradictory rules then it's still true that the people as a whole have no consistent idea, etc., etc. And yeah, the Tome of Necromancy was the kind of thing I was talking about in regards to creating your own consistent interpretation and houseruling towards it.


The Resurrection case is the one issue, but generally those spells require a body, so it could just be that animating a body renders it unfit for use after it's destroyed, and of course can't be reanimated when it's in-use already.

This was always my assumption, but the OP makes a good point here. Let's examine:

Reincarnate
Since the dead creature is returning in a new body, all physical ills and afflictions are repaired. The condition of the remains is not a factor....
A creature that has been turned into an undead creature or killed by a death effect canít be returned to life by this spell.

Raise Dead
...the body of the creature to be raised must be whole....
A creature who has been turned into an undead creature or killed by a death effect canít be raised by this spell.

Resurrection
The condition of the remains is not a factor. So long as some small portion of the creatureís body still exists, it can be resurrected...
You can resurrect someone killed by a death effect or someone who has been turned into an undead creature and then destroyed.

True Resurrection
This spell can even bring back creatures whose bodies have been destroyed...
You can revive someone killed by a death effect or someone who has been turned into an undead creature and then destroyed.

So it seems that even a spell like True Resurrection, which doesn't need a body at all, needs the undead creature made from the original body to be destroyed before it can work. For the body to have been used to create a still-active undead creature is more of a block than for the body to have been destroyed utterly or to be mouldering away at the bottom of a mile-deep pit where the caster and/or spell cannot act on it. Lower-level magics seem not to work on a body once it's been turned into an undead, even if the undead is then destroyed. Reincarnate, which requires only a piece of the body and creates a whole new body, can't act on a once-undead corpse at all.

My personal model for this is that there is a sort of sub-soul or soul-like thing associated with a body, which is linked to but not part of the actual soul, and which is responsible for maintaining a physical form. When a person dies, their soul goes to the relevant afterlife and their sub-soul disperses. When an undead is created, it uses the sub-soul to run the body. Thus, if an undead is currently using the sub-soul the soul can't reclaim it to hook on to a new body, but the soul is otherwise unaffected by the usurpation. The ability of more powerful spells to animate or resurrect longer after the time of death are due to a greater ability to gather/restore/reconstruct the sub-soul. The reason you can't resurrect someone who died of old age is because the link between their soul and sub-soul has degraded (though the sub-soul is still there, and they can still be animated).

It's not a fully-worked-out theory and I haven't accounted for reincarnate, but I like it.

Zenos
2008-10-14, 03:24 PM
About the resurrection issue, I always interpret it as any re-killed undead can be ressurected as a normal body, the ressurection fails only when the undead is still animated.

mostlyharmful
2008-10-14, 03:28 PM
Well, when I say "the people who create the rules have no clear and consistent idea", and you say "each of them does, but they don't agree", that's not a contradiction. Whether the individual writers at Wizards have this all carefully thought out in their own heads I don't know, but if they haven't reconciled their opposing ideas before encoding them as contradictory rules then it's still true that the people as a whole have no consistent idea, etc., etc. And yeah, the Tome of Necromancy was the kind of thing I was talking about in regards to creating your own consistent interpretation and houseruling towards it.

Hence I disagree to a certain extent, mostly one of focus. My beef, were I to be said to have one, was (as usual) with the WotC editors that imposed no clear coherent and universal application of morality to the various energy types. We're not in disagrement just that I'd like to focus the problem in a divergance of metaphysics in the writers with no overaching ideology, what happens when no-one checks each others work, and the Tome of Necromancy wasn't ment to be a be all and end all, just a reasonable atempt at a single viewpoint game model. I think we're arguing from opposite sides of the same stick, just that I'd like to point out that our's the end of the stick that makes sense.:smallsmile:

hamishspence
2008-10-14, 03:28 PM
The 4th ed term for this "sub soul" was the animus in the book World and Monsters, and accounts for soulless undead, and undead animals. Is basic "animal drives" mostly.

AKA_Bait
2008-10-14, 03:29 PM
This has been debated a million times, but I just felt like responding to this one point.


1) It isn't a desecration of the body, it is simply using it for something helpful.


I take it then that cannibalism is not evil either? Think of all the wasted meat and starving children that it would be useful for. :smallbiggrin:

Sstoopidtallkid
2008-10-14, 03:35 PM
I take it then that cannibalism is not evil either? Think of all the wasted meat and starving children that it would be useful for. :smallbiggrin:There's already a thread on that issue alone that's at about it's 10th page, but personally, I don't find it evil to eat someone that's already dead, though killing them to eat them is murder.

mostlyharmful
2008-10-14, 03:35 PM
I take it then that cannibalism is not evil either? Think of all the wasted meat and starving children that it would be useful for. :smallbiggrin:

Here's just something I'd like to throw in here. in my wallet there's a Donor card, in the event of my death others will benefit, people I don't know from adam. Were that system not in play I'd feel enormous satsifaction in knowing that in the event of my death I would go some way to alliviating suffering (in this case hunger) from the world at no personal expense. How do you fit the evilness of necromancy into a situation in which the body in question has left an unambiguous will to the effect that they would like to make the life of their decendants easier?

hamishspence
2008-10-14, 03:36 PM
Cannibalism issues go to the cannibalism thread. Point is worth listening to, but maybe not here.

As for evil spells: can be hard to decide why, in some cases. We now that, occasionally, undead aren't evil, but, as a rule creating them is. But we don't necessarily know why.

Most inconsistantly treated Evil spell: Deathwatch.

Neutral in 3.0

Recommendation to give it evil descriptor in Vile Darkness.

Given Evil descriptor in 3.5

Put on the spell list of Exalted Deeds Slayer of Domiel, and Miniatures Handbook healer. Both are required to be good, slayer can lose powers for committing evil act.


This is just one Evil spell.

kamikasei
2008-10-14, 03:39 PM
About the resurrection issue, I always interpret it as any re-killed undead can be ressurected as a normal body, the ressurection fails only when the undead is still animated.

However, only the higher-level spells state that a body which was animated as an undead may be raised once the undead is destroyed. Why can't raise dead raise a body in that circumstance? Why doesn't raise dead have a clause saying "you can raise a body which was animated as an undead and then destroyed, so long as the remains of the destroyed undead are as intact as a corpse has to be for this spell to work normally".


The 4th ed term for this "sub soul" was the animus in the book World and Monsters, and accounts for soulless undead, and undead animals. Is basic "animal drives" mostly.

That's... weird. That was actually the word I used for it myself, I just wasn't sure if it was proper and so didn't use it in my discussion above. Huh, guess it means exactly what I intended after all.


I take it then that cannibalism is not evil either? Think of all the wasted meat and starving children that it would be useful for. :smallbiggrin:

This has also been debated here, and the idea that cannibalism is evil is not a clear-cut gotcha. Indeed, I don't believe eating someone after they're dead is evil (though of course it may violate traditions and/or constitute destruction of property).


Hence I disagree to a certain extent, mostly one of focus. My beef, were I to be said to have one, was (as usual) with the WotC editors that imposed no clear coherent and universal application of morality to the various energy types. We're not in disagrement just that I'd like to focus the problem in a divergance of metaphysics in the writers with no overaching ideology, what happens when no-one checks each others work...

Agreed, but I'm not sure the writers deserve the credit you're giving them in assuming they individually have consistent views.

Tokiko Mima
2008-10-14, 03:46 PM
2) Animation of said body, by use of negative energy. Negative energy isn't inherently evil in and of itself, but I'm 100% certain I've seen it written in one of the expansion books that doing so "brings Evil into the world". Again, this depends greatly on the DM, but those that would call #1 evil would likely call #2 evil as well.

It does literally and physically bring evil into the world: even mindless undead are evil aligned, after all. Though I don't exactly get how that works..?

hamishspence
2008-10-14, 03:48 PM
only source that gave anything like an answer was Vile Darkness, and said While the technical meaning was eating own kind, the meaning they use, was eating intelligent beings of any sort, for pleasure.

So, if reason is completely Not for pleasure, might pass.

Getting back to Undead. While evil spells is one, another is Spawning: vampire bite, wraith drain, etc. Discussed in Vile darkness- intentionally creating evil monsters, is evil.

Which raises eyebrows, a bit, about The Gods in OoTS- creators of dragons, etc. Maybe they get an Omniscient Morality Licence?

kamikasei
2008-10-14, 03:59 PM
It does literally and physically bring evil into the world: even mindless undead are evil aligned, after all. Though I don't exactly get how that works..?

Well, that's part of the question. Why are mindless (and therefore incapable of moral action) undead evil-aligned, if negative energy itself is apparently not evil?

If you want to rule that negative energy and therefore undead and their creation are evil, then shouldn't all spells that use negative energy be [Evil], whether they create undead or not?


only source that gave anything like an answer was Vile Darkness, and said While the technical meaning was eating own kind, the meaning they use, was eating intelligent beings of any sort, for pleasure.

So, if reason is completely Not for pleasure, might pass.

Thing is, a crap reason isn't much help, and this reason is basically crap. What does it matter, once the being is dead, whether during its life it was intelligent or not? Why is it worse to take pleasure in a meal than to not? This is reasoning by archetype: the vile troll eating a halfling child alive because its fear makes it more delicious is clearly being evil, but that doesn't extend to a family ritually consuming the remains of a deceased member.

Quietus
2008-10-14, 05:29 PM
Well, here's my basic thoughts on it from a completely subjective viewpoint - I was attempting to remain objective, at least to start the thread off. The biggest reason I think Undead are seen as evil is because of archetypes; The powerful necromancer and his undead army, marching on a city with conquest on his mind, is clearly evil. This is one of the most common ways you'll see undead in fantasy, and outside of that, there's the zombie apocalypse scenario. Zombies don't just kill to eat, the way animals do... they kill anything living and eat them, not even because they NEED to eat, but because those living things are there. This goes beyond simple need to survive (err... well.. you know what I mean), which is an evil act, even if mindless undead are incapable of making moral choices one way or another. Are the undead actively choosing to be evil or do evil things? No, it's just part of their nature.

So, I think it's mostly tradition for undead to be evil - and by extension, creation of undead. The designers never did anything to back this up mechanically, however, and in trying to make cure/inflict spells available to both sides of clerics, they contradicted themselves. After all, turning/rebuking undead is also positive/negative energy... but good clerics can't rebuke, and evil clerics can't turn.

I think the INTENTION was that positive = good and negative = bad.. but that they chose to waive that when they were looking at clerics and healing. The intended role for the cleric was as a Healbot, remember, so even Evil clerics had to be capable of healing. If Positive energy were good, they couldn't, so the designers watered down these types of energy for that reason, including Inflict spells only because they were the Cure spell's direct opposite.

I think that the rules as intended treat negative energy as bad for everything except inflict spells, and this is where that line of thinking collided with the animation of undead. Negative energy is the "bad" energy, therefore undead use the "bad" energy to stay up. It was a fluff addition, and now is causing all this confusion because someone, or multiple someones, didn't talk things out before dropping in their sections of the book.

Tokiko Mima
2008-10-14, 05:29 PM
Well, that's part of the question. Why are mindless (and therefore incapable of moral action) undead evil-aligned, if negative energy itself is apparently not evil?

If you want to rule that negative energy and therefore undead and their creation are evil, then shouldn't all spells that use negative energy be [Evil], whether they create undead or not?

Maybe we should look at it in reverse, that undead are evil by default (with a few 'quasi-deathless' exceptions, like archliches) and that therefore anything that creates an undead, mindless or not, is evil. Undead should have the evil subtype, but they don't because they aren't outsiders and the subtype would be useless rules detris if the mere fact of being undead makes one evil by definition.

Agrippa
2008-10-14, 07:00 PM
In first Edition Negative and Positive Energy where strictly neutral. Negative Energy was death and darkness (lack of light not evil) while Positive Energy was life and light (visible light noe goodness). That's all.

FoE
2008-10-14, 07:19 PM
There are three debates you should never have in D&D:

1) Should paladins have a code of conduct?
2) Why should/shouldn't fighters be as good as magic-users?
3) Why is raising undead necessarily "evil?"

They're the "religion and politics" of the gaming world.

Tokiko Mima
2008-10-14, 07:23 PM
There are three debates you should never have in D&D:

1) Should paladins have a code of conduct?
2) Why should/shouldn't fighters be as good as magic-users?
3) Why is raising undead necessarily "evil?"

They're the "religion and politics" of the gaming world.

Don't forget 'Monk's don't suck.' and 'What can beat a Wizard?' :smalltongue:

puppyavenger
2008-10-14, 07:42 PM
I've actually thought of a reason why the spells say that death effects and/or being an undead prevents raising.

the Negative energy rests on the corpse and it requires more positve energy to bring back, making the lower-level spells ineffective.

whether you think that makes it evil depend on you opinion on why the non-evil gods of death hate undead but don't care about resurrection.

Weiser_Cain
2008-10-14, 09:36 PM
Raising undead is at best a neutral act.
Funny things is that you'd think with the stigma attached it'd be one of the more powerful schools of magic but I can't tell you how many times my necromancer died in nwn.

Ravens_cry
2008-10-14, 10:07 PM
That's because necromancy is generly a villain school of magic , rather then a player school, it lacks the useful, though technically less powerful, lower level spells. A article in Dragon had a bunch of lower level additional spells for necromancer, such as zombie/skeleton animal spell, a pair of skeleton hands that acted at your control, and skull bomb spell. I will look it up some time soon.
As for the 'no resurrection while undead' thing, I think that is a balance rule, to keep you from creating an army of yourself from repeated raising and vampiring yourself. Also, it adds a quest hook, in that if you are made undead, now your friends have to go find you slay your animated corpse and bring you back to the land of the living.
As for if raising an undead zombie is desecration, I would think organ donation would also be then, unless the actual act and existence as an undead causes suffering for the soul of the former owner of the body. The way I would play it is to have a) a graveyard set apart for those who lend their body to this service, and b) if your raising a fresher corpse, first cast speak to dead, and ask. Then it is up to the DM. If they say 'yes'. then go for it.