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In a recent session, a player character in my game died. Due to events involved in the player's backstory and their attachment to the character, I offered to have the character rise from death as undead with his soul intact, and the player excitedly accepted.

I am hoping some of the more experienced and knowledgeable among you could advise me on how the traits I have added to the character will affect combat, especially if anything is too strong of a detriment or benefit.

The character is an air genasi rogue and as such has the associated traits found in the Elemental Evil Player's Companion PDF. The character has the Haunted One background, which I have allowed to be used to stem the fears of the common folk from his undead nature so long as he does not act in a malicious or criminal way around them.

Now for the homebrew undead traits:

  • no longer needs to eat, sleep, or breathe

  • conventional potions and elixirs are of no use

  • resistant to necrotic damage

  • vulnerable to radiant damage

  • darkvision 60ft

  • immune to spells that do not affect undead, like healing word

I plan on allowing the option of returning to life if the player chooses that path in the story, but am uncertain how later levels will be affected by these attributes.

Do I need to change anything to ensure the character is still flavorful and fun while remaining balanced compared to other PC creature types?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Does the party have a way of healing him? \$\endgroup\$ – Dinomaster Oct 24 '18 at 6:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is the undead PC's new undead form shadow-related in any way? Because in 5e most undead don't have vulnerability to radiant damage unless they're shadow-y. \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Oct 24 '18 at 7:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Simply that the only creatures with radiant vulnerability (according to D&DBeyond) are the Shadow, Shadow Demon, and the "Atropal" (which I don't know anything about). Two of those are shadow creatures, implying that simply being undead or cursed by Orcus or whatever wouldn't necessarily justify radiant vulnerability. I imagine you may be thinking one of two things: 1) "Oh, I hadn't thought of that", in which case my info might be useful, or 2) "So? I still want radiant vulnerability", in which case that's fine. This isn't intended as a "you can't do that", just a "have you thought of this?". \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Oct 24 '18 at 9:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a critique... "no longer needs" is not the same as "no longer can". The former implies that they can and don't require it. With reference to your Undead Trait. I can't find it at the moment but I think JC addressed intention that potions would still work in this case. Obviously, DM discretion but be sure to carry that over to other creatures with that same trait, otherwise it isn't really fair. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Oct 24 '18 at 12:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ Related: How can I heal undead creatures? \$\endgroup\$ – PixelMaster Oct 24 '18 at 22:48
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Mostly it depends on your campaign, but from my point of view, it seems you nerfed the character.

Good features:

  • Darkvision.
  • Resistance to Necrotic Damage.
  • No longer needs to eat, breath or sleep.

Bad features:

  • No effect from potions and elixirs, which are mostly good for whoever drinks.
  • Vulnerability to radiant damage.

I would have to check whether immunity to spells that don't affect undead is good or bad, but for your example, it's obviously bad to not be able to be healed. I will be using the point system of this Race Homebrewing Guide, since what you are putting here is similar to a subrace (in previous editions it would be an additional subtype).

So, let's figure out the points. For the good points, eating and breathing shouldn't play a too important role in most campaigns. As I said, it's ultimately dependent on the campaign, but it usually doesn't matter too much. Not requiring sleep is also not an amazing point, although it does give the party someone to watch over the entire night. I'd give it just a +0.25. Note that Fey Ancestry gives +0.5, and is similar, but gives immunity to sleep and resistance to charming. Undeads will have these features, but from other source, so the sleeping by itself is a .25

Resistance to necrotic damage will be useful against other undeads, necromancers and similar stuff. I'd give it +0.5, similar to Dragonborn's Resistance.

Darkvision 60 ft has the default value of +0.5.

Now, for the bad things: first, I will start saying, as I did in this answer, that generally giving weakness to a race is quite bad in D&D 5e. Most of the published races, with the exception of Volo's Monster Races and Sunlight Sensitivity for Drows, don't have downsides in them, just weaker or stronger upsides. That said, let's analyze your weaknesses: Vulnerability is usually more harmful than resistance is helpful. The difference in added damage from vulnerability is X, while the difference from subtracted damage from resistance is X/2. For example, a hit that would do 10 damage now does 20, which is a +10, while resistance would decrease it to 5, or a -5. Note that, aside critical hits, we are used to additive bonus, not multiplicative, so vulnerability is "stronger" than resistance, at least that's how I see it. Argument made, -1 for that.

No effects from potions and elixirs is also dependent on how common they are - in most campaigns, at least healing potions are quite common, so I would give easily a -0.5 here.

For now, we are already at -0.25. The real deal is on being affected by spells: Not being able to be healed by potions is something, not being able to be healed at all is way harder to deal with. I'm not sure there are enough negative spells that don't affect undead to make up for it - and even if there are, how commonly are they actually going to be used against your party? Again, in usual campaigns, I would guess (where guessing means by experience) rarely. This should be a -0.5 to -1. A net score of -1.25, or even -0.75, is a lot. And I consider myself kind here, it's probably worse than that.

One thing that would make things less messy for him would be, at least, give him some X per short rest healing ability.

Also, think about later resurrections: after 5th level, reviving your dead PCs is actually common with spells like Revivify, Raise Dead, Resurrection. How would the undead character come back to "life"? Still as undead? As he was before? Would these spells even work on him? Either way, that's for you.

TL;DR: Most of your features are hindrances, and the good ones aren't usually that helpful. It's likely to make the character considerably weaker. If that will be enough to make it unfun or unbalanced depends on your actual campaign setting.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you have reason to believe that un undead PC can’t spend HD on a short rest just like everybody else? \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Oct 24 '18 at 7:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Anonymoose It's considered "good policy" to wait 24h before accepting an answer. Many people feel discouraged to give an answer to a question with an accepted answer marked, and many people are sleeping now. The 24h gives time for everyone, from all timezones, to have a chance of answering your question. If you may, un-accept the answer and, if you still feel like it's the best answer after one day, accept it again :) \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Oct 24 '18 at 7:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM I don't, but I do have reasons to believe that, mainly at low levels (2 to 4), just the healing from short rests isn't enough, mainly when they are your only way of healing, meaning you will be constantly with half your hit dice since you only recover half with the long rest. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Oct 24 '18 at 7:15
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The loss of potentially being healed outside of short/long rests seems like a serious nerf. You might consider giving the player Undead Fortitude as a balance (text from the 5e Zombie stats):

Undead Fortitude: If damage reduces the zombie to 0 Hit Points, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of 5+the damage taken, unless the damage is radiant or from a critical hit. On a success, the zombie drops to 1 hit point instead.

If you want it to have the ability to scale when the PC is taking >15 damage regularly, you could reword this to be:

Undead Fortitude: If damage reduces the player to 0 Hit Points, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of 5+ the damage taken beyond 0 hit points, unless the damage is radiant or from a critical hit. On a success, the player drops to 1 hit point instead.

This way if they are at 20 HP and take 30 points of damage, their save DC would be an obtainable

DC = 5 + 10 = 15

rather than the otherwise unobtainable

DC = 5 + 30 = 35

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