I always thought that positive energy is harmful to undead and negative energy heals them, but I recently found out that, technically at least, undead by default are only healed by negative energy, and nothing in their type description says that positive energy harms them.
This is supported by the fact that every positive energy based heal (or cure) spell in the core manual has to specify that it deals damage to undead.

I then started wondering if somewhere in the books is a positive energy based spell, supernatural ability, spell-like or whatnot ever described as healing undead?

I'm referring to 3.5e's rules because that is the only edition I've ever played, but if this interaction is true in any other edition or Pathfinder, I'm still interested.

And obviusly I'm talking about healing your average zombie or smarter types of typical undead. I'm not talking about particular creature like the deathless from Eberron.


(dumb) 3.5 RAW:

Negative energy (such as an inflict spell) can heal undead creatures.

That's the only particularity of a undead regarding healing (besides the fact it can't heal itself).

Let's say you target a zombie with Heal. The spell's description tells us:

If used against an undead creature, heal instead acts like harm.

So we have to read the Harm text rules:

Harm charges a subject with negative energy that deals 10 points of damage per caster level (to a maximum of 150 points at 15th level). If the creature successfully saves, harm deals half this amount, but it cannot reduce the target’s hit points to less than 1.

If used on an undead creature, harm acts like heal.

It seems obvious we have to ignore the last line if we want to keep a little sense here. Basically what we learn is that casting heal makes us charge the zombie with negative energy that deals damage. The undead trait says undead can be healed with negative energy, not that every negative energy heals then, so it "makes sense" that you can harm it, with the heal spell, doing negative energy damage.

By the way, note that by casting harm on the zombie, you are supposed to make him gain HP through positive energy. That is the effect of the spell and does not trigger undead special ability.

Pathfinder rules on this are copy-pasted from 3.5, with the same nonsense.

RACP (rules as commonly played):

When you target a undead with positive energy, you make it take damage, when you target it with negative energy, you make it gain HP. That's pretty simple and the weird cases have to be houseruled by the GM.

I can't provide absolute evidence for the fact everyone plays with these rules, but this kind of material for example suggests undeads taking damage from positive energy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I thought the phrasing about heal-harm was dumb too untill I noticed the word acts. As my interpretation they meant that the spell, let's say heal, is powered by positive energy but work like harm so it deals 10\lvl damage. This phrasing is in line with the more obvius RAI. To be clear I'm not questioning the RAI, I won't bring any positive healing undead to any table, is just curiosity. \$\endgroup\$ – Jackyz Jul 4 '16 at 15:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please avoid the term RAI when discussing your own opinion. It is only appropriate when you are discussing the author’s opinion, and that can only be discussed of you have actual quotes from the author to discuss. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 5 '16 at 12:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan: If you have such quotes, I would be glad to add them. I deliberately precised "(or at least as commonly played)" because I don't have them, isn't that enough ? \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Jul 5 '16 at 13:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AnneAunyme One, “as it is commonly played” is not RAI so you shouldn’t call it RAI. Two, you don’t actually have any data suggesting that this is how it is “commonly” played, you just assert that it is. Grounding the statement in your experience (and not claiming knowledge of anything broader than your own experience) would make this answer more accurate and more well-supported. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 5 '16 at 13:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ not called "RAI" anymore ! I'm sorry I can't make here a summary of all the examples of games I have seen where people do damage to undead with positive energy. It's not only based on my own experience, but on sessions reports from friends and lore of the game. I will try to find an example of that in the official comics. I couldn't find any official session report deposit for PFS, do you know if there is some ? \$\endgroup\$ – Anne Aunyme Jul 5 '16 at 13:37

Both the Book of Exalted Deeds and the Eberron Campaign Setting describe the deathless, good-aligned undead-ish creatures that are healed by positive energy and harmed by negative energy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Not familiar with any Midnight campaign setting, so I won’t edit your answer, but the Eberron campaign setting had deathless, which were exactly as you describe, positive-energy-fueled Good elven undead. Might be what you were thinking of, or a detail that the Eberron and Midnight campaign settings share (deathless originate from Book of Exalted Deeds as far as I know, well before Eberron, though they were not specifically elven there). Alternatively, the baelnorn are Good elven liches, but I believe they are still harmed by positive energy and healed by negative. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Sep 19 '16 at 16:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ You're right, it was the Book of Exhaled Deeds. Will edit my answer now. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – user3573647 Sep 19 '16 at 16:44

Short answer: No.

Long answer: I think every mentioning of "healing" should be interpreted as "regaining hit points." Also, this is my strongest argument; damage-effect does not equal opposite-healing-effect. Bludgeoning damage does not heal bludgeoning, fire damage does not (but sometimes could) heal fire creatures (other are resistant or immune), and undead can (but not always will) regain hit points through the use of some negative-energy-effects-but-not-all-thus-only-if-mentioned-there.

Another ALSO; the entry for Animals (f.e.) doesn't state they are damaged by negative damage either, this is because the entry of a negative damage-effect ALWAYS contains the word "living."

It's an opt-in, rather than a general opt-out. This neatly translates to the fact that most undead-healing-effects are divine(-related), as opposed to arcane, which makes sense.

Again, I agree RAW are a bit confusing here, but not wrong.

Also -and this disturbs me even more- please note the fact that it is implied that sentient undead heal/regain hit points just as living creatures do, for resting. Another example is the Lich, which according to RAW cannot heal himself (or other undead) with his negative damage energy touch attack. He has to find another way, rest, or commit suicide to regain full hit points in 1d10 days. A curse indeed.


Feats are abilities that your character has practiced at. If the feat Tomb Tainted Soul allows for a non-undead to be healed by negative energy, then I don't see a reason that an intelligent undead couldn't "train himself" to be healed by positive energy or perhaps take the feat when they become undead if there was a ritual performed to make this happen or some other valid reason.

Now, all that being said, there may be a way in Pathfinder to kind of do what you want. The Zealot class, Discordant Crusader has the ability to expend his psionic focus and change the damage type he deals from profane to sacred or vice versa. This class does a lot of healing from both evil and good maneuvers, but both heal (positive energy). I would argue that if I can flip the energy type of profane and sacred, I could do the same for profane and positive. That would allow you to expend your psionic focus to change a healing ability YOU use to negative energy thus healing yourself.

Keep in mind, the rules are just guidelines and any good DM knows how to allow variation while keeping balance. Having an undead that is healed by positive energy isn't undeard of, as there are good undead that are created by the souls yet to be born instead of by negative energy, and those are healed by positive energy if I remember correctly. Another possibility maybe a holy item, a relic, that can change the energy type as it affects you. Not only would this be a good quest to go after, it would be something that could provide several plot hooks in the future as churches send their clerics after this sacred relic to destroy it.


I think that it's a basic antithesis. Undead, being creatures supported by negative energy are harmed by positive energy much like living creature are harmed by negative energy.

The only way to turn it around is a feat (I can't remember where) that can be taken at 1st level which reverses the effects of positive and negative energy on the character.

edit: The feat is at Libris Mortis (Tomb tainted soul) but only works for a non-undead creature to be healed by negative energy.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I always thought that too, but the simple fact that they left it out of the type description intrigue me. And remember that positive energy based creature (anything living) may be harmed by positive energy too, so it's not always that straight forward \$\endgroup\$ – Jackyz Jul 4 '16 at 15:33

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