Incorporeal undead – D&D’s social virus

There’s a strong theme running throughout most undead in general, but incorporeal in particular. Said theme is that these creatures – the ghosts, spectres, wraiths, et al – all became undead because they all had some sort of personality problem.

Think about it for a moment. People who become incorporeal undead do so because of their mindset – that is, there’s something going on in their head that makes them will themselves into their undead state; worse, because this is the mental/emotional state that made them become undead, it (the mental condition that makes them reanimate) tends to be magnified and often warped.

Consider the person who dies in a state of extreme rage and becomes a grudg-, er, a ghost. Being livid with rage is a personality problem, but only in terms of being so temporarily overcome with anger that it drowns out your rationality. But now that person is locked into that state in their undead existence; they don’t ever calm down or get over it – their personality problem persists until they’re destroyed (though, at least for some haunts, if you do figure out what their original problem was and solve it, they’ll get over it – and in doing so negate the visceral reaction that keeps them animated).

Now, unto itself none of this is particularly surprising; it’s sort of assumed that restless spirits are restless for a reason. Whether something awful happened when they died, or they were just truly horrible people who couldn’t stop being horrible even postmortem, these are people who are responsible for their own condition.

The create spawn power changes all that.

Incorporeal undead with the create spawn power can turn anyone they kill into the same kind of undead as themselves (for the most part). This is interesting when you remember that incorporeal undead are representative of a magnified personality problem, e.g. being unspeakably enraged. In essence, undead that create spawn aren’t so much spreading undeath as they’re using it as a mechanism for spreading the same mental/emotional disorder that they themselves have. An angry ghost is spreading anger, through the medium of creating more angry ghosts.

This makes incorporeal undead into a sort of social virus – a single germ (the ghost) attacks a healthy cell (a living person), and turns it into another germ (a newly-created ghost, via create spawn), and the two then part ways to continue the cycle. While I’m sure that doctors and microbiologists everywhere are cringing at my crude analogy, it’s still an apt description. Ghosts are the viruses of society.

With that thought in mind, let’s turn our attention to today’s monster, a pathetic little creature even as far as social bacteria go.


The allip is…not in the Pathfinder Bestiary. Actually, this little guy is found over in the Bonus Bestiary, a sort of ghetto-monster book Paizo made for the dozen or so creatures that they thought were too lame to make it into the Bestiary proper. Well sir, on my blog we don’t look down on monsters that aren’t as well-known or often-used as some of their colleagues, and so we’re going to cover all of the Bonus Bestiary monsters right here alongside their mainstream counterparts.

And it’s a good thing for the allip’s sake that that’s how I roll, because it’s a pretty crappy monster.

Let’s break it down: the allip is the spirit of someone who went insane and committed suicide. Now, on the surface, that sounds like it could certainly be pretty freaky. Imagine someone who was so desperate for the voices in their head to stop that they slashed their wrists and bled out…only to find that death has made things worse, and the voices are louder, more violent, and utterly irresistable in what they say.

That sounded pretty scary…and then I remembered that “crazy people who kill themselves” also includes guys like Frank Grimes, and suddenly the allip didn’t seem nearly as fearsome.

One good thing that can be said about the allip as it appears in Pathfinder, however, is that its touch of insanity only causes temporary Wisdom damage. This is a change from D&D v.3.5, where it causes permanent Wisdom drain – imagine facing off against a CR 3 monster, and discovering after the encounter that those 5 points of Wisdom you lost aren’t coming back. Hope you weren’t a cleric or druid.

Now, to be fair, a restoration will cure that right away, but that’s a 4th-level spell, which means that you need to be 7th-level to cast it…so yeah, your 3rd-level character is screwed. Making the damage temporary means that you can cure it with an appropriately-leveled lesser restoration instead. Yeah, it can still drain 1 point of Wisdom permanently on a critical hit, but that’s still far less daunting than how it used to be.

Of course, having the damage be temporary does make things a bit more awkward in one other regard…

See, while the allip doesn’t have the create spawn power, its flavor text does note “Targets reduced to 0 Wisdom by an allip’s touch become catatonic, frequently starving to death and becoming allips themselves.” The problem is, being reduced to 0 Wisdom from temporary damage is that it’s temporary. One day of rest (and if you’re catatonic, you’re probably resting) and you’ll gain back 1 point of Wisdom…2 if you do nothing but rest for 24 hours.

In other words, the only way that someone could remain catatonic long enough to starve to death and become an allip (and lets be honest, saying that starving to death from catatonia is madness-induced suicide – which is how allips come into being, remember – is certainly stretching it pretty far; I mention that just in case you thought I was reaching by using Grimy as an example) is if after you become non-responsive, the allip stays right next to you, whacking you over and over again for days on end, so that you never get a chance to recover your Wisdom.

Is it just me, or does that seem incredibly petty? No wonder Paizo didn’t want this jerk rubbing elbows with the more respectable monsters.

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4 Responses to “Incorporeal undead – D&D’s social virus”

  1. Saiyu Says:


  2. Ettina Says:

    But does catatonia really count as rest?

    I mean, it’s supposed to be that they’re “withdrawn into a deep sleep filled with nightmares”. Nightmares aren’t particularly restful. I mean, the nightmare spell “prevents restful sleep”, making you fatigued and unable to regain spells for 24 hours.

    You could make an argument that a character at 0 Wisdom can’t rest, or needs their party to do something to help them rest (like casting calm emotions).

    • alzrius Says:

      You bring up a good point, but consider: while the nightmare spell does prohibit rest, that’s a 5th-level spell. It seems unintuitive, at least to me, to equate an ordinary bad dream – no matter how unpleasant – with something conjured up via that level of magic.

      While you could conceivably argue that you can’t “rest” while at 0 Wisdom, that means that having your Wisdom score reduced that low (via damage, rather than drain) is essentially impossible to restore on its own, which makes it much more deadly. That’s essentially adding some new mechanics to a power based on rationalization, which always makes me wary…I’ve seen, over the years, players try to do that a lot.

  3. Random Thought Encounter: Accidental Undead Creation | Intelligence Check Says:

    […] There’s an interesting dichotomy I’ve noticed when it comes to creating the undead in most games. If you’re inflicting that condition on someone else, it’s virtually always a deliberate act, typically via spells such as animate dead or create undead (often with extra effort required on the part of the spellcaster to create more powerful undead). Likewise, most undead that have the ability to make more of their kind aren’t typically doing it unintentionally (unless they’re so far removed from rationality that they’re unaware of what they’re doing, making them a sort of social virus). […]

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