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:


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

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.

Shadow Lodge

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

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.

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.

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.

Shadow Lodge

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

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.

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