I believe that to make anything more realistic in writing or in D&D, you have to develop a good background for it, more than goes into the actual game. One of the problems of the AD&D is that they have cerated a lot of humanoid enemies - goblins, orcs, hobgoblins, not to mention the ones that look like different types of furry animals. I mean, what is the real difference between an Orc and a Hobgoblin? How about a Gnoll and a Flind (a feline Gnoll)? In game play this becomes just another subhuman opponent for mass slaughter, but if you get the game at its word, these are not just different races or ethnic groups, they are different SPECIES! To avoid this, I have developed a lot of rationale for why the way things are in my gameworld. One of those things was the undead and the way magic would work in a fantasy world. In the beginning I wanted to do an all-human D&D campaign setting to avoid unnecessary stereotyping, then I realized that different humanoid species would add a lot of richness to the fantasy world. For a long time I puzzled over why the magic woud work in a fantasy world but not ours, and I wanted to explain the undead and turning. I wrote the following in response to what someomne else posted elsewhere and ended up writing down my thoughts. See if you get any kicks out of these ideas and let me know what you think of them. In my campaign I have the chief nemesis hurled into the fantasy world from another universe, I needed cosmological underpinnings for solving the campaign quest (when they get to it) and AD&D Cosmology wasn't doing it. That was partly how my ideas for the negative energy plane evolved. Anyway, here it is:
The undead, evil, and turning of the undead has never been adequately explained by Gygax. If you have an empty shell, where the rationale behind the invented phenomenon (the undead) should be, then the undead will appear as just another opponent wearing a zombie costume and not the drastically different from the living that it really is. In MIDlands, the undead are rooted in the fabric of reality of that world. In our real world, magic only works in the minds of the people, self and others. Careful, before you consider it all a hypnosis or an illusion! 75% of all illness and disease is psychosomatic, and so you had better respect that witch doctor with a bunch of figurines carved from bark and feathers in his medicine bag. You do not have to believe in his power, know who he is, or fear him for him to touch you and either heal you or seriously hurt you. In real physical terms! Having sais that, Haitian Zombification process as was uncovered in the 1950's in Haiti was basically a community ritual of social control, a chemical lobotomy. Prime example: the one zombie whom the western psychiatrists have recovered in the 1950's was young woman who was a fish merchant at the village market. She was staying open for one hour longer than other merchants and was underselling them to get their busiess and to buy flashy clothes for herself. Local Christian Priest talked to her about social responsibility. Her parents were warned and they talked to her. Finally, she was publically cursed, panicked, had nowhere to run, and was turned into a zombie; drugged, buried, recovered with severe brain damage affecting higher brain functions and motor skills, sold for work on he plantation cutting sugar cane. Her parents were paid blood money.This one will not bite you and you will not need to TURN her with a cross. She has alread been TURNED by her community.
Which was is more evil? Turning her into a zombie and selling her into slavery or her forcing a fish merchant or two out of business and forcing theit families into poverty in a society where death from stavation is a very real threat? In historic European medieval legends, it was human cannibals, who came back to life as ghouls, cursed to feast on the decaying dead in the graveyards! My guess to keep canibalism from developing during starvation. I guess, undeath happens only to evil people...Real world be as it may, magic and the undead would of course exist in fantasy world also. In that fantasy world, there has to be something different about the physics of its reality at the level of subatomic particles to make it possible for a magic user to produce a very real fireball that will blow out the windows and set the house on fire. And no, a Fireball is NOT a medieval hand grenade! i.e. Magic is not technology masquarading as magic in medieval fantasy society!In our own mundane world, there is a connection between aesthetic and spiritual for most people, hence the grandeur of the cathedrals. In our world, in the spheres of psychological and social science, anything imagined is real in its consequences. Witches may not have actually frolicked naked with the devil during the middle ages, but society dealt with them as if they were. Hence, imagined (a witch who flies on the broom and hangs out woth the devil, though imagined, became real in its consequences for the women accused of witchcraft!), but in D&D fantasy world, MAGIC is REAL! Therefore in my D&D fantasy world, emotional energy a being feels can be transformed into physical energy. Perhaps it is because the deities that thought the D&D world into existence are so much closer to the mortal beings that inhabit it. In our world, the picturesque view of the landscape and weather can bring out and change the mood we are in, hence the appeal of landscape painting. In the D&D world, if the emotion is powerful enough, if enough people feel it, and if it is channeled correctly, then the mood will affect tha landscape, i.e. you can call down storms, thunder and lightning, and if enough people channel their rage, earthquakes!But here is more. In this fantasy world, it is Light, not the Energy, that can not be created or destroyed. That's why crystal balls work, but you need gems to focus that light and aid in the recovery of light from past and from faraway places. Perhaps the D&D world exists in the minds of the beings that created it and light is stored in the positive energy plane where things are cerated out of it. It flows through reality and drains through the negative material plane into ocean of light in which the cosmic conscousness floats. Enterig the Positive energy plane is like entering the Sun. Entering the Negative energy plane is like entering the Black Hole. In a D&D world, when a dead person lives in the memories and in minds of the peple as a hero or villain, that person remains linked to that D&D world after their death. Hence the power of the spirits and ancestor worship. Very evil, cruel tyrants will be summoned back from the afterlife as monstrocities. Necromancy is that branch of magic that deals with the Darkness. Possesion of bodies by these spirits is one of the features of this gameworld. Good will not become undead because the Good is selfless and can let this world go after its death. If summoned by the living, the good spirits are kind and unselfish enough to endure the temptations of the material life and ignore, entertain, or escape from the pleas of the living. Maybe it's not unselfishness, but the unplesantnes and sickness of possessing a dead body that repels the good/sane beings from doing it.
The evil and selfish are weak, insane and depraved enough to start competing for the corporeal body or for some sort of an existance as the undead. It is not a pleasant existance. These beings are unstable. They forever feel freesing cold and can not find warmth or comfort. Whatever binds tem to this world keeps driving them through the haze of exhaustion and nausea. Their physical body is crumbling into decay, they have to work at it to keep their decaying flesh in one piece,they feel no pain inflicted on the physical body, save the pain caused to their own spirit. Injuries to the unead body cause them pain because the undead spirit feels tremendous fear of dying, going through death, again. It is that, which causes the undead pain and not the physical discomfort of the dead body. More powerful demons and undead creatures exert mental and emotional control over the weaker undead spirits, and Necromancers can actually splinter spirits and enslave spirits to make the weaker undead - skeletons and D&D game zombies. With the undead there is an interaction between the "natural" undead ecology - spirits brought forth by the colective unconsciousnes of humanity, and the unnatural - Residue of Necromantic experiments, Liches, and the slaves of the more powerful undead.With regards to the mechanics of the undead and the "energy drain", in our real world, the only substinence we need is physical nutrition, we eat, we drink, we breathe we live. We might alter out surrounding environment and reproduce. In the game world The living beings are integrated into the game reality and hence, the Light flows through them, is trasformed through the actions of the living and flows into the negative material plane. The undead are not part of that Light Cycle. They are not part of the gameworld and light does not flow through them. A living being in the gameworld is like a faucet - Light flows through them like water. From the surrounding environment, which they see and act upon, into the visual memory of the experience, and into the darkness of the oblivion, the negative material plane. In this comparison, the undead are like a Pot with a hole in the bottom - the dead body they control is not processing the Light like the living and unless the undead keep sucking away Light form the beings they drain of life, the undead spirit will get sucked into the negatve energy plane, leaving behind its undead shell. The way the higher undead keep themselves alive is by consuming the Light of living beings in the world. Bound by the forms imposed on the undead by the undead ecology and collective beliefs, this feeding migh take the form of blood drinking by the Vampires. Mutant ghouls, who are still in their own bodies, but are slowly being sucked out of them. Ghouls bodies metabolize putrescin (one of the end products of protein decay, a non-lethal pison to man, that irrittes mucous membranes and causes violent diarrhea and food poisoning if swallowed). Anyway, Ghouls bodies metabolice Putrescin out of the carrrion they eat the way a living body metabolizes glucose. Stench of Putrescin surrounding the Ghoul (Putrescin is used to manufacture artificial doo-doo smell) Also, pathogen for Cholera prodiuces Putrescin in the intestines of the victim, eventually killing them through dehydration among other things, but Putrescin itself will not kill, only make viloently sick and nauseus, hence the paralytic Ghoul touch.
Negative energy plane is the Plane that sucks all the undead into it and eventually destroys their spirit. The undead spirits did not want to go into the Light or could not go to Creator, so now they must fall into the Darkness and oblivion. It's not precisely a plane of the Undead, but the Negative Enery Plane exists as a black hole and its spherical Event Horizon (anything crossing that threshold falls into the black hole and its light can not escape its gravitational pull). Anyway, it supports a spiritual shadowy existance on the Event Horizon threshold of the Black Hole that is Negative Material Plane. The weakened undad spirits fall through the floor into the Darkess never to be seen again. That's where destroyed undead fall. The rest remain on this plane in shadowy spirit form, forever trying to escape by latching on to a dead body in the gameworld and walking that world as the undead. When the Priest of Good turns the Undead, s/he channels forth the Light of the Consciousness of the Deity that the Priests worships and focuses that Divine Awareness on the abomination that is the Undead being turned. Light Of the World flashes on the Undead and separates the physical body that is part of the game world from the shadow that lurks within it. The Shadow is cast into Darkness, where it belongs, into which it dissolves, the great cosmic non-being. To the udead it's like a searing flash of white light and burnig flame, from which it tries to get away.When the undead feeds on the living, it takes away the Light, that to the living feels like life is good and that it is good to be alive and keeps people from committing suicide, Undead take that, and to them it feels like a little bit of warmth. To a wight, the zerlo level man will feel like a cup of hot offee thrown into a bath filled with cold water in which the undead sits with ice cubes floating on the surface. The greater the power of the being that was drained and the more damage they can do, the warmer the undead feels. If they kill a creature equal to their level, they get a fix. They feel warm and comfortable for a time, and the feelings of insecurity and rage and fear leaves them wth a high, which usually mean that the undead will be sleeping like the dead until the Cold wakes them again. Undead are addicts in the last stages of addiction to Life. For the living that has been drained, the efects are primarily spiritual and psychological. In the world where belief can alter the phyhsical reality and Gods are real and present, the Living get a a glimpse into the mind of he undead, in which there is only cold, hunger, fear, misery and terror ofthe darkness and non-being (The living in the game world wouldn't have the fear of motality that we have in our own, since their beliefs in the afterlife are so much more immediate and stronger, and since religion gets such stronger and imediate reinforcement).
In this fantasy world, the Light, the Spirit, cosists of memories and feelings associated with all the strong deeds that build character - good or evil, and it is reenfirced by the feelings of others who know the person. Undead, however, see none of this, to them it's not identity, feelings, or memory, to the undead, it's just warmth to be nourished on. A simple vampire might not even perceive Light as light, but rather as sweet smelling, sweet tasting blood. But that is just as illusion - what vampire is sucking is really the Light/Life energy; to them, a fix of morphine or heroin to take away the pain. Undead seek MOMENTARY RELIEF. Because of that, the traumatic damage they do to their prey (victims) is tremedous. Recovery time is based on how much the drained vicitm is loved by others, Priests and Clergy can restore the lost faith, compassionate comrades in arms can restore the lost confidence. The Living heal, undead Decay. If the victim is alienated and weak, s/he will not struggle to live and will give up all of its light to the undead predator. Undead will then have captured the entire Soul and some undead can "ride" that soul, so that they are removed from the Black Hole. Even if slain, the spirit of the powerful undead will remain in the spirits of the undead, which it created and then raised under its control. With enough undead under their control, certain undead are as removed from darkenss as the living, and if slain, will come back in some other incorporeal form.One of the reasons that Necromancy is forbidden in the fantasy world, as witchcraft was in ours, is because Necromancers experiment on living beings and try to master the technique of this Light/Level drain. It is conceivable that priests of evil religions can "TURN" Paladins. If the evil Priest or Wizard has mastered the technique of the life energy drain, he or she can drain enough Spirit from a Paladin to Break their faith, but you wouldn't be able to turn the Living the way Undead is turned.