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An undead creature is:

Not at risk of death from massive damage, but when reduced to 0 hit points or less, it is immediately destroyed.

What does "destroyed" mean exactly here? Do they just become an inanimate corpse? Do they turn to dust?

My players will soon encounter a curst, a type of undead that, after reaching 0hp, instead of being destroyed it becomes paralyzed until it regenerates later. Since my players could fail the Knowledge (religion) check to identify the creature, I'm wondering if they could realize something is amiss when the curst drops paralyzed (because he isn't being "destroyed" like normal undead).

I'm specifically looking for something official, not advice on how to house-rule it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What do you already know about this topic? That is, what has your research already revealed? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Feb 2 at 14:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan Not much really, what I found were a lot of different ways to "destroy" an undead creature, but no definition of what that meant, and similar questions online, but for different editions and without clear answers anyway. It may be that "destroying" an undead creature is just the equivalent of "killing" a living creature, and what happens to the body is entirely dependent on the method used to destroy it, but then again most of the methods to destroy undead don't describe what happens. \$\endgroup\$ – Yopi Lapi Feb 3 at 6:44
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The only source I‘ve found that gives a hint here is the Revive Undead Spell (Spell Compendium, 175). According to this spell an undead "destroyed by hit point loss" is an inanimate corpse rather than a pile of dust.

Your restore animation to an undead creature destroyed by hit point loss (even a zombie or skeleton, which can’t normally be reanimated once destroyed). You can revive a destroyed undead creature that has been inactive for up to one day per caster level. (...) The body of the undead to be revived must be whole. Otherwise, missing parts are still missing when the creature is reanimated. None of the dead creature’s equipment or possessions are affected in any way by this spell. An undead that has been destroyed by a turning effect can’t be revived by this spell.

(emphasis mine)

It's important to note that it makes a difference whether an undead is destroyed by HP damage or by a turnig effect.

As Yopi Lapi pointed out that the original version of this spell (Libris Mortis, p 70) has a different wording which reads: "An undead that has been turned to dust by a turning effect can’t be revived by this spell (because only dust remains of the undead)." (emphasis mine) While this line makes the difference between a turned and a slain undead quite clear, it was - for some reason - revised in the Spell Compendium - to leave things in the dark again.

Anyway: if not turned, the Curst should be able to "fool" the party...

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This does seem to indicate that an undead destroyed by hit point loss is whole, which was my main concern. Interestingly though, while the SC version of the spell does say that "An undead that has been destroyed by a turning effect can’t be revived by this spell.", without giving a reason, the original version on LM said "An undead that has been turned to dust by a turning effect can’t be revived by this spell (because only dust remains of the undead).", which means that what happens to the undead's body does indeed change depending on how it was destroyed. \$\endgroup\$ – Yopi Lapi Feb 3 at 10:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @YopiLapi That's interesting. I wonder why they changed that line later. I edited my answer to include the Libris Mortis version. \$\endgroup\$ – Peregrin Took Feb 3 at 13:07

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