This is a question that arose when an evil cleric PC cast Create Undead on someone (who was dead at the time and was never an undead before) and then commanded (as in, he used his Command Undead class feature) it to tell him all the information he needed, thus rendering Speak With Dead useless.

Does an intelligent undead creature (e.g., a Mummy) have the soul of the original creature that inhabited the body in the first place? Even if not, would it have the original's memories? Should his approach have worked? Would the answer change if, in reward for a particularly big favor, Doresain granted him the ability to create Gravetouched undead?

I know that Liches and such would have the original's soul (or else the Baelnorn wouldn't exist), but is that true for other kinds of intelligent undead like mummies and gravetouched ghouls?

Edit: I'm not sure if the intent of my question is coming across correctly (whether the newly undead would be able to give information only the person who inhabited the corpse had, and whether it would have the same or any soul), so I added more text (in bold above).

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    \$\begingroup\$ A question related to this is "Even if an undead does posess the same soul it had while alive, does that soul still posess its living memories?" I have a hard time imagining that an Allip, for example, would have living memories in a form coherant enough to be useful. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Mar 21 '12 at 3:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ By the way, it's not an "official" answer, since I have nothing to base it on but my own speculation, but the explanation I've been using in my own campaigns is that intelligent undead do have souls and memories, but that they are, emotionally speaking, eternally caught at the moment of death, which typically involves such agony and fear that most types are only able to remember the most emotional moments of their living existence. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Mar 22 '12 at 5:44

Create undead does not specifically state that the soul/undead/etc is of the original creature; it just states that a dead body is required.

This leaves it a little open to interpretation as to where that hapless soul is going to come from to fill that corpse that's being filled.

However, more powerful undead, eg Mohrg are the "animated bodies of mass murderers", so although you can create a Mohrg at a suitable high enough level the component is still "a body". So this would imply (to me) that when an undead is created a suitably evil soul is dragged into the corpse. Otherwise if they're trying to animate the corpse of a pub landlord or something into a Mohrg then there is a disparity between monster description and the soul of the person being "used" as a component.

My personal take would be that either the soul of the prior unfortunate person who was living is dragged screaming back into the body when the undead is created (if they are "evil" enough and not protected somehow) otherwise a malign spirit is instead called into the corpse of the undead; once killed the spirit is destroyed and banished from the plane for the atypical 101 days/moon phase/etc and re-raising it (if allowed) would summon another spirit instead with it's own memories and whatnot.

As a footnote, the advantage of speak with dead is that it's a non-evil spell; so granted summon undead could get you the same result, but you'd have to be cackling and stroking your white cat and so on if you wanted to do it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a note, Ressurrection and similar stuff can't bring back someone that had been turned into a Undead creature. Even True Ressurrection doesn't work. So, it seens to me that since the soul is "unavaliable" to those spells, the Undead is using the soul it has on it's living time. \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Dec 2 '14 at 12:38

I believe it depends entirely on the type of undead and how they were created. Liches very explicitly keep the same soul they started with. Vampires and mummy lords seem to as well. I have always viewed lesser undead, even those with some intelligence, as having no soul at all.

As Rob mentions create undead is mildly ambiguious, but my interpretation is that it would create the soulless variety.

Edit to respond to question edits: For some types of undead, the answer is clearly that they would know everything the living version did and could relay that information. Liches, vampires, and mummy lords will have access to all the knowledge and nearly all the skills (I say nearly because a paladdin of a goodly deity will almost certainly lose some powers as a vampire and there are similar restrictions on some other skills...) of the pre-undead version.

I would say the answer is clearly no in the cases of basic skeletons and zombies. For create undead specifically, the book is unclear, but I am going to go with "No." if I were the GM. For one, it just seems wrong that a spell of that level could drag back the soul of a goodly person and it gets awkward that a spell of that level could return someone with all of their skills in life. I would not want a spell like that used to say readily create scribes and blacksmiths much less wizards.

Furthermore, even if you go with a different interpretation and say that they have most of the skills and knowledge of their past life, that doesn't mean they will share it easily even if commanded. For instance, the mummy description specifically says that while they can speak, they rarely bother, most of those undead have a specific alignment (chaotic evil for ghouls just for example). This seems to imply that even if the old soul is trapped in there, it might be horribly warped (or at least temporarily shackled) by evil. That could imply that even if the old soul and mind was theoritically in there, it might not be able to provide information in a coherent form even if it wanted to or was compelled to.

So, the short version is that while there is some room for debate, if I were the GM I would not permit the use of create undead for interrogation purposes. It seems to go against the spirit of the spells inended use and is only debatably within the letter of the spell description. It also could be very unbalancing for a mid-level necromancer to be able to dig up the bodies of prominent people and then interrogate them, or use their advanced skills, or use their tormented undead self as hostages. Such things are certainly possible, but they require more power than create undead.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure my intent is getting across, so I edited the question. \$\endgroup\$ – Yandros Mar 20 '12 at 20:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimothyAWiseman Actually, the 'Magic Jar' spell does state that intelligent undead do have souls, whereas unintelligent undead do not. It says nothing, however, about whether they're the same souls that the bodies posessed while alive. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Mar 21 '12 at 3:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user867 Thanks for adding that. I haven't looked at that specific spell for a while. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Mar 21 '12 at 16:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TimothyAWiseman Perhaps you should edit it into your answer, since it's relevant? \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Jun 24 '15 at 0:25

In the FR book Corsair, a whole crew of pirates is killed and then brought back as ghouls (or lacedons), and they remember things from their lives, like the captain who betrayed them. They even speak with him when they encounter him after their animation as undead.

This would imply that "lowwer" intelligent undead like ghouls retain memories from their lives. This can be either from their soul or from their bodies, but the memories are there.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for referencing an official novel (and thus as close to RAW as can be without something from the handbooks) \$\endgroup\$ – Yandros Mar 21 '12 at 13:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ghouls are intelligent undeads unlike skeletons and zombies \$\endgroup\$ – Andrea Mauro Nov 14 '19 at 15:33

I think that your question is not really if an intelligent undead has a soul but if he/she retains his/her memories. Skeletons and zombies are just mindless, animated bodies, but intelligent undeads do retain their memories: there are plenty of examples of vampires and liches continuing their lives in their castles without people (almost) noticing the difference for long time. Maybe mummies are a bit a controversial case, where some pharaoh or high priests return to continue their previous plans and accomplish their destiny, while some other looks more like mindless puppets, but in general it appears that intelligent undead retain their memories.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer, but its wort pointing out that current versions of DnD separate out mummies and mummy lords. Mummy Lords are clearly intelligent, the manual is a bit ambiguous about mummies but seems to imply they are unintelligent. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Mar 29 '12 at 2:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimothyAWiseman I disagree, the SRD clearly states that Mummies can speak, even if they rarely do so, which implies that mummies are intelligent. \$\endgroup\$ – Yandros Mar 29 '12 at 2:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Yaztromo While that would be the question that arose in the situation, it also made me wonder what the general consensus was on whether an undead creature has a soul or not. For this particular campaign the question was already answered from the beginning (since it started with a former gravetouched ghoul cleric now resurrected, trying to come to terms with the duality he now felt) so this question is mostly academical. \$\endgroup\$ – Yandros Mar 29 '12 at 2:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Yandros You make a good point, but there is still a difference between something theoretically capable of speech and something like a Mummy Lord that will clearly communicate and make long term plans. Though that note does make it more of a difference of Degree. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Mar 29 '12 at 15:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Yandros I don't have a clear canon reference, but I'd say that intelligent undeads have a soul (maybe warped or damned or consecrated to some terrible immortal or demon, but they still have it), while unintelligent don't (they are just dead bodies used by some evil magic user or cleric for their purposes - their "original" soul is somewhere else, now). \$\endgroup\$ – Yaztromo Mar 31 '12 at 16:00

I think that the critical thing here is what you want for your game. There's arguments either way but it should be easy enough to establish what it is that you want to happen (you may also want to discuss it with your players of course):

They don't have souls or memories and so can't be compelled to dish the dirt...

This is possibly the less dark of the two options as it pretty much implies that the undead is a sophisticated robot rather than a tormented soul/mind shoved inside a dead body and compelled to do the caster's bidding. It also means that this can't be used as a shortcut to information and, if other means of grabbing that information are rare, could mean that shortcutting information retrieval via the dead is harder. This is a good option if you plan to either run mystery plots where you don't want the dead answering all the questions or if you plan for necromancy to be less of a horrid, forbidden art and more of a moral grey area.

They do have the souls and memories and can be compelled to dish the dirt...

OK - this makes the process somewhat darker - the undead are the ascended (or hellbound) souls/minds dragged back from the afterlife and shoved into a corpse before being compelled to act on the caster's behalf. In this case it's less like a robot and more like a tortured slave. It also means that the PCs have a convenient shortcut to information/clues. If you plan to have necromancy seem a very dark art and you don't mind the PCs having access to information that only the dead hold then go with this.

Some undead do and some don't...

This one does rather hint at a meta-game approach but it's entirely possible to say that Mummies do because the process that creates them specifically preserves the faculties and that Ghouls don't because the grave-rot eats away at their brains or something like that. You could even make a case-by-case basis: "Yes, normally a mummy would be able to answer simple questions but this guy took a spear through the brain... he's just really not with it any more". This might be harder to bring the players along with as they may well resent the unsurity of it all and believe it's about railroading them in plot. If you can convince them, however, it probably offers the greatest flexability.

And at the end of the day...

Work out what it is you want for your game. Try and figure out what atmosphere you want to create and how various options impact on that. There's no absolute right and wrong here - just what is most likely to make an enjoyable game for your group.


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