It is well known to the people of the World that the dead do not sleep easily in their tombs. Many forms of devilry can cause the earth to spew forth the bodies of the slain, newly animated and filled with hatred. Once loosed, they stalk the land. If they encounter life, they do their best to end it in the most terrible fashion that their demon-haunted minds can conjure.
A great number of deluded souls have sought to control these ravenous mockeries of the human form. The Church labels these madmen Necromancers, and the demons they serve simply think of them as tools. They practice a foul form of magic which can coax the dead out of their slumber and bind them, for a time, to the will of their new masters. However, these spells are not permanent in effect. The dead raised by such magic appear to be in a depressed stupor, and occasionally one of them will gain a small amount of insight. If this should happen, woe be on the Necromancer. Many a would be practitioner of the Black Arts has been throttled to death by his own, reeking creation.
Not all of the living dead are created through such magic. Some are spirits who are bound to the place of their deaths or, more rarely, their burial. Troubadours tell tales of ghost-haunted battlements and wight-filled tombs. The Church assures the peasantry that this is because improper burial allows demons to enter the bodies of the deceased, and that their loved ones are sleeping peacefully in the afterlife. The peasantry is not terribly convinced of this.
Some of the undead have been animate so long in a single location that they seem to become a part of their funereal surroundings. Such creatures are nearly indistinguishable from the very mortar of a castle, or the trees surrounding a barrow, until they decide to strike, or so legends say.
The presence of these creatures is one of the reasons the Church has the purchase in society that it does. Clerics are Humankind's greatest shield against the ravages of the living dead. Their ability to turn those creatures of the night affords them a respect reserved for few others in the World. Still, it would seem that the Church is not as effective a buffer as it would like to believe, for on some nights, during the dark of the moon, whole villages vanish and for years afterward one can hear dismal cries among their ruins.
An astute reader who is familiar with the CAS story "The Empire of the Necromancers" will notice at least a passing similarity in this entry. To model the feeble hold Necromancers have over their undead servitors, I'm thinking of employing a sort of moral check. If the creature's check should fail, it turns on its master. I'm not entirely sure on the particulars yet, but I may make a post when I am.
I love the undead, and thus the Nightwick campaign will see a higher frequency of zombies, skeletons, and the like than other campaigns. However, I hate level drain. I'm not interested in reading reasons why level drain is good, or how it isn't as bad as people make it out to be. I've read most of them a hundred times already in forum and blog posts, and I am not interested in seeing them replicated here. Because of my hatred of this mechanic, I have had to make alternatives to many of the iconic undead. Expect to see a few of these posted later today. I have renamed them so that people who still wish to use Wights or Wraiths may, and simply can add in my variants.