Are all Undead Evil?


Rules Questions


An argument started on a Pathfinder server I am on, about if all undead are evil or not. Now the only thing to support all undead being evil is a bit of text from the D20PFSRD, specifically just below the undead creature type from the page: https://www.d20pfsrd.com/bestiary/rules-for-monsters/creature-types/

Quote:

Five Things Almost Everyone Knows About Undead

The following are a few facts that are considered common knowledge among civilized peoples.

1. Most undead were once living. Knowing details about the phase of existence that preceded a creature’s undeath is often invaluable in determining its motives.
2. Holy water damages undead as though it were acid. Distributed by goodly religious orders the world over, holy water is the only line of defense against undead for many commoners.
3. Undead are invariably evil, as are the means to create such beings.
4. Undead are healed by negative energy and harmed by positive energy.
5. Undead are immune to numerous magical effects, including mind-affecting effects and abilities that affect a creature’s physical constitution.

Is this just D20PFSRD making something up or is it rooted in something? I cannot find anything elsewhere to support the claim.


Well, it really depends on how far you want to extend the definition of 'undead'. For example there are the Unageing which are a collection of dead elves that are too attached to their lives to leave their own bodies. That is a sort of undead, but they aren't referred to as undead and they don't have most undead weaknesses.

If you go into Starfinder there is an entire race of 'undead' that aren't innately evil. But that isn't pathfinder, and it feeds a certain narrative the authors wanted to follow.

Classic undead are undeniably evil. The mindless undead will slay the living unless controlled and instructed not to. Intelligent undead are either driven by powerful emotions to slay certain members of the living (which are related to the cause of their undeath), or prey on the living in some form.

Undead are powered and sustained by negative energy. Positive energy and life is anathema to them. You can see this as an unaligned attribute, but most would consider this diametric opposition to life as 'evil'.

While individual beings may not be evil as an alignment, they would still have an aura of evil much like a Devil or Demon would under the same circumstances. And they would be affected by spells that target evil due to what they are even if their personal alignment isn't evil.

Actually according to the stories such undead are based on, not being evil and fixated should allow them to cease being undead and simply pass on to the afterlife. The negative emotions held by undead are a major factor in what keeps them being undead.

But if you want to divorce your undead from the stories they rose from, your undead could certainly be any alignment. But at that point, you're entering territory which questions what is evil? What is good? What is alignment? Territory that games like Pathfinder generally don't worry about because you follow strong well defined themes. Like all undead being evil.


It sounds like a sidebar from a Player Companion book.

That said, in general, almost all undead are evil because that is how they are depicted in myth, folklore, novels, film and television.

Ghosts are an exception. But "living" corpses (zombies, skeletons, vampires, ghouls, etc.) default to evil because in real world folklore, souls that animate corpses are usually those of evil people - meaning good Christian souls go to heaven, good pagan souls go to Elysium, Valhalla and so on; they don't hang around inside corpses unless the alternative is Hell or Tartarus or the other horrid places reserved in various religions for evil souls!

The very gamey counter-argument is that in Pathfinder (or D&D) undead are powered by the negative energy plane which is part of the natural multiverse and not defined as evil.
However, that is taking an in-game (pseudo-scientific) explanation for how undead come to be which was not intended to supersede the "feel" of real-world tales about the creatures.

Grand Lodge

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Undead are mostly commonly evil. A brief look through the monster manual supports this. However, I was able to find at least one undead that is not evil: Death Web.

I would say that it is common knowledge that undead are evil. What is not common knowledge is that not all undead are evil. Alignment for monsters is addressed in the Bestiary. Undead are not 100% restricted like animals.

There is this section from the bestiary regarding monster alignments:

Alignment, Size, and Type While a monster’s size and type remain constant (unless changed by the application of templates or other unusual modifiers), alignment is far more fluid. The alignments listed for each monster represent the norm for those monsters—they can vary as you require them to in order to serve the needs of your campaign. Only in special cases is this more fixed, such as creatures with an Intelligence of 2 or lower (which are almost always neutral) and planar monsters (outsiders with alignments other than those listed are unusual and typically outcasts from their kind). Note “type” and “subtypes” are not capitalized. Each type and subtype should be appropriately linked, as many of them provide special abilities.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Ghosts are the only exception that seems to have the Paizo stamp of approval; ghosts are allowed to be non-evil, while every other non-evil form of undead really has the look of something that slipped past the editor rather than being an intentional decision made by Paizo.

With that said, many forms of undead are entirely free-willed and, at least in theory, if something has free will it could always choose not to be evil. Paizo tends not to go down this particular rabbit hole, however, as it leads to the very heart of the alignment debate. So we don't get non-evil undead from Paizo. Except ghosts, those are allowed to be the exception.


Depends on the setting.


Looking at the mother game, there was the Forgotten Realms book series "Pool of Radiance." My favorite character was Miltiades, an undead Paladin who was an amazing, walking contradiction to everything he had believed in in life: being good and undead.

Grand Lodge

Some undead are mindless creatures, little more than animated matter like a golem or other constructs, so should be neutral by default.


I think undead being evil was to fill a need to have foes in DND. Creatures that you could have no moral crisis over killing. Not only were they evil, but you would probably be doing the poor souls a favor by putting their bodies to rest.

Exceptions, of course, are exceptions.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

The Paizo designers have said that within the Pathfinder/Golarion world, undead are evil. Obviously, in a different setting...


Jeven wrote:
It sounds like a sidebar from a Player Companion book.

You're right it's from the Undead Slayer's Handbook, page 5.

The Negative Energy isn't evil by itself. It has a role in the cosmology, and some say that without the pull of Negative Energy Plane, the souls would never leave the Positivie Energy Plane and the Great Beyond couldn't sustain itself. What is evil is introducing creatures of negative energy to the living world.
The Material Plane was constructed for the souls to grow and gain alignment before they reach the Outer Sphere. Introducing beings of negative enrgy to this world, or corrupting soul with it so that they don't continue their natural journey is evil, and the spells and rituals that are able to cause that use evil energy (have evil descriptor). This causes the creations to become naturaly evil as well. Some of them, the ones that maintained enough sentience to make moral choices, may be able to fight their natural evil urges, but most of them act on instinct and their actions always cause the destruction of life.


In PF undeads are evil by default outside ghosts.

While the undead type doesnt require them to be evil, if you check the templates, they will require undead to be evil, outside the ghosts.

So vampire have "free will", can they be non evil? Nope.

Lich? Nope

...

So simply put: No, not ALL undead are evil, but pretty much all of them are.


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James Jacobs (creative director of PF1) has said that all Undead default to evil, but that there are very rare exceptions.


Meirril wrote:
Intelligent undead are either driven by powerful emotions to slay certain members of the living (which are related to the cause of their undeath), or prey on the living in some form.

Those tomatoes had it coming.


PFSRD20 has it's own commentary. I wouldn't take chat as RAW.
As stated above not all undead are Evil. Most are.


I had a Witch Hunter (Ranger/Cleric) NPC who was turned into a Vampire who wasn't evil. His deity excommunicated him from his church because this particular deity hated undead though. He wasn't evil because he didn't indiscriminately hunt living beings for food, but rather he would exclusively hunt evil beings and drain them. Technically, he was Chaotic Neutral.

But yes, undead are almost always evil. It's extremely rare to have a non-evil undead.


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No offense, but what your GM allowed in a home game doesn't really have much bearing on the "Official Golarion" setting.

As a GM I probably would have made your character evil as part of the process of becoming a vampire, though you would have had a chance to redeem yourself and transition to not evil.


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As a Rules Question™, if we maintain the separation of setting from rules that persisted up until the last few core books, then nothing prevents the presence or even abundance of non-evil undead. If I understand correctly, JJ's intention for the Golarion setting is that undead are Always Evil apart from a tiny few exceptions explicitly called out in published material. That said, JJ isn't going to send the Paizo Hit Squad to burn your books if you have non-evil undead in your (non-PFS) game.


Yeah, that's a good point.

Undead being evil is more a setting dependent issue.

But then again, there's a lot of creatures that it applies to.

A lot of Pathfidner rule books were written with assumptions about the setting.


the setting is the setting and it's a work of art, not a science or factual.

CRB, p570 wrote:
Pathfinder Campaign Setting: These products detail the world of Golarion, the setting for all Pathfinder Adventure Paths and Modules. With these books you can design your own games set in this rich and exciting world.

so RAW is separate from the "Pathfinder Campaign Setting". Publishers have historically done this so they could produce various settings with minor to trivial rule updates/changes specific to a setting/backdrop/world.

From a historical viewpoint of RAW Mummies have been the classic exception. Their role of tomb guardians and such made them unique.
From a player perspective, assuming that undead are evil is a common and acceptable practice.


Granted its not pathfinder but D&D 3.5/Eberron had a creature type called Deathless. Good aligned undead.

The fluff technally is that they are heroic souls who refuse death's call, the paladin that won't quite after shes slain, the elder elf who continues to teach his people after his body fades away or the cleric who guards their deities temple until the ends of time.

They look like undead but have blue glow in there eyes thats ....calming?reassuring?, they also wear whatever armor and weapons that they had in life.


The objective morality of Pathfinders system says they are because the god of undead is evil.

Can that change? Yeah, its your game.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
KujakuDM wrote:
The objective morality of Pathfinders system says they are because the god of undead is evil.

The problem is that Pathfinder's alignment system is actually two parallel systems: there's a moral alignment and cosmic alignment. Undead are by-definition evil under the cosmic alignment system, because they are literally powered with negative energy. Morality, on the other hand, is defined by your actions and not by what you are. Free-willed undead can choose to act in a non-evil or even good manner; no amount of "objective" criteria will solve that contradiction. If the issue is forced, either cosmic alignment or moral alignment has to take precedence. There's no way to run it "RAW" without leading to completely counter-intuitive results (see any discussion on the Horror Adventures alignment rules for more details)

Paizo solves this problem by simply ignoring it. Undead are always evil, and always act accordingly. Exception for ghosts, but that's about it. Good-aligned characters never use evil-aligned powers and vice-versa. By enforcing strict adhesion, Paizo can pretend that moral and cosmic alignment are the same thing. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as it helps support a classic-styled good vs evil games where a strong thematic division between good and evil is helpful. In more nuanced games this sleight of hand falls apart. How do you handle a free-willed undead who chooses to act in a morally good manner? How do you handle a horrific villain who casts good-aligned spells and channels the literal powers of cosmic good for evil purposes? If you open that pandora's box, it gets messy fast.


I personally handle it by allowing them to work towards losing evil as an alignment but they can always be a smite target and always detect as evil.

Only arcane casters can cast spells that are against alignment, I think. Divine casters are the only ones strictly prohibited.

As to how that effects their alignment, I do enforce that it will change your alignment slowly (infernal healing, etc.) but its really only relevant when you need to focus on codes and divine mandate.


IIRC undead are always smite targets and detect as undead, though I don't remember where that came from. 3rd edition?


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
KujakuDM wrote:
Only arcane casters can cast spells that are against alignment, I think. Divine casters are the only ones strictly prohibited.

Just clerics, actually; other divine casters are free to cast spells of any alignment descriptor.

KujakuDM wrote:
IIRC undead are always smite targets and detect as undead, though I don't remember where that came from. 3rd edition?

It's right there in the ability description:

Smite Evil wrote:
If this target is evil, the paladin adds her Cha bonus (if any) to her attack rolls and adds her paladin level to all damage rolls made against the target of her smite. If the target of smite evil is an outsider with the evil subtype, an evil-aligned dragon, or an undead creature, the bonus to damage on the first successful attack increases to 2 points of damage per level the paladin possesses.

The other creature types mentioned all specify that they have to be evil (evil dragons, evil outsiders) but it makes no mention of undead. It's difficult to determine RAI here, though, since as has already been mentioned Paizo does have an "all undead are evil" informal rule so it would be redundant to specify evil undead (whereas there are non-evil dragons and non-evil outsiders).

Grand Lodge

Dasrak wrote:
The other creature types mentioned all specify that they have to be evil (evil dragons, evil outsiders) but it makes no mention of undead. It's difficult to determine RAI here, though, since as has already been mentioned Paizo does have an "all undead are evil" informal rule so it would be redundant to specify evil undead (whereas there are non-evil dragons and non-evil outsiders).

This informal rule is rarely violated. But it is violated:

https://www.aonprd.com/MonsterDisplay.aspx?ItemName=Deathweb

There is at least one pathfinder creature that is both undead and not evil. Therefore, not all undead are evil.

Paired with the descriptions on alignments from the bestiaries that state these are typical alignments, you can still have undead that are not evil, RAW.

However, I would still make these incredibly rare, and have never used not-evil undead. The RAW do indicate that they can exists though.


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Someone said wrote:
The problem is that Pathfinder's alignment system is actually two parallel systems: there's a moral alignment and cosmic alignment. Undead are by-definition evil under the cosmic alignment system, because they are literally powered with negative energy.

Not true. Negative energy is neutral, in the non-aligned sense. Its no more evil than fire, earth, water, or air, which are all capable of killing you when applied in excess.

Every living non-immortal creature has negative energy in it, because that entropic force is the cause of aging. Creatures are born, their positive energy overflowing, as they grow and mature, and then the balance begins to tip, and they slow and age and die.

Undead are excesses of such force. They are arguably more like a volcanic eruption, or a tidal wave, or an avalanche: an excessive surge of otherwise normal energy.

The problem is that undead are capable of independent movement, even when they aren't capable of independent thought. A volcano simmers, until the forces at work on it force it to erupt. It can't perceive the town below it, nor can it think "I'd love to burn those puny humans and destroy everything they've made." The lava flow doesn't turn to chase a person. It just sits, erupts, flows, and is done. It doesn't choose its targets. For all the destruction is wreaks, its just a disaster.

But undead, even mindless ones like skeletons, can move on their own. Unless commanded by outside forces, they can still perceive, and react. A skeleton can perceive a creature nearby, and react to it. But while a "mindless" creature like a spider may react with flight or fight based on instinct, the only instinct a skeleton has is to cause entropy. Which is highly destructive to a balanced system. They don't hunt to feed, and even when they do, they do not need to feed to survive (even vampires aren't destroyed by not feeding). Some can even reproduce, but not in a traditional sense of comingled growth, like mother/father, or even host/parasite. The supplant and replace, turning their victims into their fellows.

They are a cancer upon the system, a cosmically hemmoragic aberration destroying a self-sustaining cycle piece by relatively insignificant piece. True, Golarion lore justifies this by having Urgathoa be the source of undead, as the first human to, wait for it, break out of the cycle. She caused a system glitch that might never be recovered from.

Lets not forgot how many undead kill with death effects. And while, yes, 3rd is not Pathfinder, its notable as the foundation. In 3rd, dying from negative levels not affiliated with some form of undead replication would STILL turn you into a wight! No longer the case in Pathfinder, at least as a hard and universal rule, but interesting to consider nonetheless.

Undead are evil because their very instincts drive them towards "hurting, oppressing, and killing others. Some evil creatures simply have no compassion for others and kill without qualms if doing so is convenient. Others actively pursue evil, killing for sport or out of duty to some evil deity or master."

Even ghosts are consumed with the horror of their existance and the trauma that created them. Given enough time, and barring exceptional circumstance, I would personally wager that all ghosts eventually become evil as well.

So yeah, while I would like a slightly more definitive statement from Paizo on the why's of mindless undead being evil, I can still get behind the blanket idea because of how the cosmic system "should" be working in their absence.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
The Black Bard wrote:
Not true. Negative energy is neutral, in the non-aligned sense. Its no more evil than fire, earth, water, or air, which are all capable of killing you when applied in excess.

Pathfinder is rather inconsistent on this one. Negative energy spells and effects are not strictly evil and do not have the evil descriptor, but many official products (from bestiary entries to adventures) frequently reference creatures mutated into evil monsters by long-term exposure to negative energy.


Well this info is nice. I would like to add that there is an undead template (ectoplasmic) which states those creatures are "usually evil." It also says that their creation and existence drives them mad, to the point of wanting to kill people while also wanting to die.

The info for ghost says

Ghost wrote:
When a soul is not allowed to rest due to some great injustice, either real or perceived, it sometimes comes back as a ghost. Such beings are in eternal anguish, lacking in substance and unable to set things right. Although ghosts can be any alignment, the majority cling to the living world out of a powerful sense of rage and hatred, and as a result are chaotic evil—even the ghost of a good or lawful creature can become hateful and cruel in its afterlife.

My point is, that the dev probably decided to write down all the evil example for consistency. And then (given this quote) are telling GMs, "hey not all are evil, but man are they pain, so any non evil might turn evil (eventually)."

* P.S. Its possible that the exposure to negative energy is similar to the effect of radiation. Large but brief amount can outright kill, but small long term causes cancer; Or, in the case of negative energy becoming undead. However, it sounds like a GM chooses lore bit.


In the "Blood of the Night" supplement about dhampires and vampires, it mentions somewhere that even though vampirism and similar undead templates turn a creature evil at first, very old undead can sometimes at least turn back to an indifferent neutral.

I also vaguely remember a printed adventure where a paladin turned vampire can be subjected to an Atonement spell - but the result is either the paladin committing suicide by sunlight, or falling to its evil urges by the next time they meet him.

Still, from what I've gathered, the intention behind the "only evil undead" rule is that any non-evil (non-ghost) undead that might at one point show up would be supposed to be unique and special.
Basically, they don't want to wear down the concept, so that it would still be fresh should they ever choose to actually do something with it.

That being said, by strict RAW: The templates for Liches and Vampires force you to evil, but don't keep you there. And the only creatures mentioned as "pretty much always the printed alignment, only unique exceptions" are outsiders with alignment subtypes, and there's been an official outsider with an alignment subtype that changed alignment for a while now, and one of the recent planar books has a city in the maelstrom full of outsiders with alignment subtypes that changed alignment.

So, if they can do it, so can undead.


The "official" answer is yes. Unofficially, there ARE undead that aren't explicitly, inherently evil. And, even inside of the ones that are, exceptions can exist. A Lich, for example, CAN be made to see the error of it's ways and abandon it's evil course, as can any intelligent undead. As previously mentioned, a ghost (created via the template, rather than directly from the Bestiary) retains it's original alignment; though from the perspective of someone that hunts the undead, a strong effort would still be made to put it to rest.

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