I'm interested in how a character can become a corporeal undead with their own free will by the rules as written by using spells. Lich, Ghoul, and Wight already have clear methods for achievement, but I'm not sure if there are others.

How would one become any other form of (corporeal, free-willed) undead, outside of those three, going by the rules? I'm not interested in homebrew. Things I'm interested in are becoming e.g. a zombie, vampire, juju zombie, mummy, or even skeleton (though skeletons are further down my list).

I considered a few possibilities around having a contingency or chain contingency that would be triggered by your death. That's where I hit a road block though. I have thought of a few possibilities but I am not sure if they would work or not:

  • Chain Contingency + Embalm + Animate Dead

  • Contingency + Corpse Host

  • Chain Contingency + Spirit Bind + Animate Dead

  • Bestow Major Curse cast on self

I asked and nobody in our group will use Requiem or similar because it has undead as character classes.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've updated this question based on clarification from the earlier comment discussion (which has been moved to chat) and reopened it. Could you check to see if this reads accurately to what you're seeking? (My apologies, revisiting this slipped my mind.) \$\endgroup\$ Jan 10, 2018 at 10:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener That looks accurate. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 10, 2018 at 11:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think asking for answers to questions about what your group will approve for use is kinda out of scope for this forum. \$\endgroup\$
    – JWT
    Jan 11, 2018 at 16:07

2 Answers 2


There are some fluffy mechanics out there.

If you want spell formulas or potion recipes like the lich has, you are probably not gonna find them for the "lesser" undead. That said, the fluffy methods, while less defined, allow for several in story methods for a PC transitioning.

Best (most comprehensive) Source

The Requiem: The Grim Harvest boxed set for Ad&d 2e has a whole section on playing undead. The information starts on page 29 of the Requiem book. This includes a section titled From Life To Unlife. This section details the game mechanics to transition from a PC with levels to an undead PC.

With these rules one can play a:

  • Zombie
  • Ghoul
  • Ghast
  • Wight
  • Mummy
  • Vampire
  • Lich
  • Wraith
  • Specter
  • Shadow
  • Ghost

An Article in Dragon Magazine #234 called Undead Again: More Undead PCs for the Requiem Campaign (pg 28) added 3 more to this list:

  • Boneless
  • Crawling Claw (dowhatnow? But I am not joshing, apparently they thought it was playable.)
  • The Penanggalan (At least it has a head, Mr. Crawling Claw)

The next section details how you might advance in such classes as Skeleton or Zombie. It also covers dual classing in your new character class.

As far as in game methods to affect this transition, this supplement assumes it happens in a demiplane wide catastrophe, caused by an item cleverly titled the Doomsday Device. However, beginning on pg 70 there is an entire section on in game justifications about how and why a PC becomes undead.

Some (not all) justifications include:

  • Sudden Death
  • Dark Pacts
  • Experimentation

As a note, the book also contains a section for undead character classes, to be used at character creation, as opposed to being "died" into this state. There is even a section on how you might return to life.

Other Possible Sources

The various Van Richten guides

These books often detailed giving levels to NPC undead, as well as detailing the specific mechanics on how to become a free-willed member of the undying. The fluff here can certainly be used with the rules above. And even though the rules a supposed to be for NPCs, they work with PCs as well. Unfortunately, except for the vampire, the guides focus on the big undead that you do not want to explore.

The Apocalypse Stone

This adventure contains details on how to make Death Knight PCs, including variations if you are not a warrior, like the death Warlock from transformed Wizards. (pg 93)

Reverse Dungeon

In the Lichland section (pg 63) Reverse Dungeon half-heartedly hints at how one might run Undead PCs. The main mechanic here is the use of HD advancement, which morphs into ELs in 3.x.

Simulating undead advancement is not necessary within the context of this adventure, since this is the last section. However, should DMs wish to continue playing a monster-oriented game after the conclusion of Reverse Dungeon, advancement options are possible

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    \$\begingroup\$ Requiem tells you about stats and classes. I want methods of becoming undead. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 11, 2018 at 4:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's in there too, it just is very fluff based, as noted in the answer this starts on pg 70. I bolded it for your ease of reference. You basically have to work with your DM based off that fluff. Or if you are the DM, use that fluff in your campaign. You should be working with the DM anyway on such a radical departure. Are you hoping to present this as an in game formula and expecting your DM to just let you do this? \$\endgroup\$
    – JWT
    Jan 11, 2018 at 15:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Van Richten's Guide to Vampires does give the following ways of becoming a free-willed vampire: (1) destruction of the creating vampire; (2) becoming a "vampire bride or groom" via a Dark Kiss; (3) making a special saving throw vs. Wisdom, if the creating vampire "leaves the area before the victim rises as a vampire"; or (4) waiting "several years" after initial creation. But VRGV also says: "it is strongly recommended that DMs rule PC vampires to be categorically impossible unless using the rules from the Requiem boxed set." so if Requiem is out, then VRGV is out. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 11, 2018 at 17:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Seven of Nine Why won't your group just use the parts of Requiem they find acceptable? Why does a portion of the rule-set that they dislike preclude use of any of the other rules? \$\endgroup\$
    – JWT
    Jan 12, 2018 at 14:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JWT its a set of rules. no cherry-picking. that gets too messy and complicated too fast. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2, 2018 at 13:05

It's not clear from the question whether you mean this to be permanent. If not, Shape Change is the most powerful, flexible option, although as a ninth-level spell, may be inaccessible. The easiest way, potentially either temporary or permanent, is probably Magic Jar into a nearby undead of the desired type. Although even an unintelligent creature would eventually escape the receptacle, this can be made permanent by destroying the receptacle with the victim's life force inside. This is a plot point in the adventure published in Dungeon magazine, The Moor-Tomb Map (by Jon Bailey, issue #13, 1ed. AD&D).

Under first edition rules, undead are not explicitly exempted from being targets of a Magic Jar, meaning they are assumed to be valid targets. Second edition adds the ability of the caster to "determine whether a life force is positive or negative energy", which seems to be an ambiguous reference to undead. Notably, it does not exempt a life force from being a target if it is "negative energy".

Another option (in 2nd edition) is to become a Zombie Lord, if this creature is considered undead (see below). These are created through a fairly straightforward process, as described in the Complete Monstrous Manual:

The zombie lord comes into being by chance, and only under certain conditions. First, an evil human being (the soon-to-be zombie lord) must die at the hands of an unread creature. Second, an attempt to raise the slain character must be made. Third, and last, the character must fail his resurrection survival roll. It is believed that the zombie lord can be created only in Ravenloft, but this is not proven absolutely for they have been encountered in other lands from time to time.

Zombie Lords are powerful, reasonably intelligent, independent, and from the description, have a continuity of identity with their former selves. There seems to be some ambiguity about whether they are actually undead, despite the name. From the description:

The zombie lord is a living creature that has taken on the foul powers and abilities of the undead.

So, they're only Pseudo Undead? Maybe not. A different printing of the 2nd Edition Monstrous Manual as one type of several under the general Zombie entry and specifies that they are turned as vampires. It also replaces the general assumption of the Ravenloft setting with the additional condition:

Fourth and last, a deity of evil must show "favor" to the deceased, and curse him or her with the "gift of eternal life."

  • \$\begingroup\$ The plot involves an accidental and not-so-successful possession of an undead. So I am not sure if it is a good answer to the question the way it was asked. \$\endgroup\$
    – ZwiQ
    Jan 18, 2019 at 6:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ZwiQ Hmm, re-reading the passage, it's not clear exactly why the possession was only partly successful: the way I read it, it half-worked because the possession was in progress at the exact moment the receptacle is destroyed, something that is not considered in the spell description. \$\endgroup\$
    – ucbpaladin
    Jan 23, 2019 at 3:16

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