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After gaming a bit this morning, I've got just a little rant about undead in more modern RPGs: What happened to undead being the stuff of nightmares? I'm not saying that it's all wrong, everywhere. I think there are some kinds of undead that seem to have held on to the long standing ideas.

 

Low-level corporal undead seem to be fine: Skeletons, Zombies, Mummies, Ghouls, etc. These range from weaker-than-NPC to stronger-than-NPC combat ability with the occasional nasty surprise like a disease or two.

 

High-level undead like Liches, Vampires, Death Knights, Revenants are often okay, but just okay. The powerful caster or melee monstrosity side of them seems to have survived, but the special ability mechanics seem to have gone by the way-side.

 

 

Mid-level undead is where I see the biggest problem... I don't know how to say it other than they have just become unimaginative. I'm talking primarily talking about incorporeal undead: Wraiths, Ghosts, Specters, Phantoms, Banshees, etc. Hell, in a lot of cases they don't even look scary anymore. Translucent-iridescent re-skins of NPC models just don't inspire that "oh crap!" feeling.

 

I mean, what happened to this?

post-46225-0-29897200-1388077727_thumb.jpeg

 

This kind of undead use to be fearsome in RPGs. Even at higher levels they were not something to be ignored as trash in a fight. And, while they weren't wizards of legend, their special abilities made them a high priority: level drain, attribute drain, aging, magical disease, silence, death magic, mind-control (possession) etc. Not only that, but you sometimes needed special weapons to even hurt them.

 

I can remember a PnP game I played once where we had become somewhat complacent and careless. The DM saw this and set us up. We just waltzed recklessly into a room occupied by a Banshee and a couple of other nasties. What ensued was pandemonium and party hysteria. We managed to pull though, but we had to pretty much retreat out of the dungeon after the fight was over because the party was all kinds of screwed up with long-term effects.

 

I could say many of the same things about the way aberrations have come to be treated. Have you ever seen a Beholder played to its full capability? This is not a trash mob.

 

Anyway, that's the end of my rant. Hopefully one of the PE developers will run across it and maybe they'll decide not to put the kid-gloves on ghosts.

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Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt. - Julius Caesar

 

:facepalm: #define TRUE (!FALSE)

I ran across an article where the above statement was found in a release tarball. LOL! Who does something like this? Predictably, this oddity was found when the article's author tried to build said tarball and the compiler promptly went into cardiac arrest. If you're not a developer, imagine telling someone the literal meaning of up is "not down". Such nonsense makes computers, and developers... angry.

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As far as unimaginative goes, the udead have been so overused in modern games and movies that it's hard to come up with innovative ways to make people scared. Most of the time you don't even need silver or holy weapons to defeat them. In the past a town setting with a SINGLE udead being in it stroke fear into people. Nowadays we've got an apocalyptic invasions from hell and everyone just grabs the guns and goes on to fight it off. Undead became just regular enemy monsters.

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It was a so-so film, but the spirit creatures in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within were quite scary. Just mere contact with them would yank out your spirit, and there wasn't a thing you could do about it.

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"It has just been discovered that research causes cancer in rats."

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Zombies happened. Over and over again.

 

Now any undead that's still corporeal is either a shambling zombie or a sexy vampire. Overexposure has robbed both these creatures of their horror because the familiar is rarely frightening.

 

Skeletons? Well, they're just zombies without skin. Mummies are zombies wrapped in bandages. And ghouls are just zombies.

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The darkspawn lair in the Deep Roads in Dragon Age: Origins was pretty much nightmare fuel, and it's the kind of stuff that used to be reserved for undead. Now they're basically used as trash mobs for certain sections of a game without really designing in the elements that make them scary. I remember in Diablo 3 when a bunch of zombies popped up in a bar and the bartender just kind of goes on doing his thing and says, "Zombies are bad for business" or something equally ridiculous. There's a lack of inspiration, I guess.

 

There's also a conflict in game design theory that people stopped wanting to deal with them. In order to really make something scary, you have to disempower a player. You have to give the undead abilities which have no simple counters. Level drain, disease, instant death, intelligence drain, and whatever other effects there are to make you feel powerless are pretty much completely unfair. They become very frustrating to play against when done improperly, and even when done well they can still be a complete chore and lack a certain kind of fear factor. Atmosphere is more effective, but that requires a certain creative vision or a budget to really make it feel real. You have to rethink design of maps or even entire sequences of the game to tailor to enemies that aren't necessarily integral to the game. We've seen undead done well despite not being a main focus, so now seeing them done without all the thought and care that goes into making something creepy, it's just disappointing.

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I don't think there's much that can be done in the looks department anymore (maybe strategically misplaced body parts can still be juggled around a bit). I'd like to see more development of other aspects, like behavior. We have standard haunted crypts or night-time predators and there's been some undead societies and the like. They could try going somewhere different along those lines.

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The concept of the Animats and the Engwithan's soul manipulations sound very interesting in Poe, and hopefully they are presented like the Skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts, an unstoppable almost mechanical foe who are extremely hard to put down permanently. That said I agree that most Undead are not the creatures of dread and despair that they should be, merely fodder for a different type of weapon, either crushing or slashing.

 

It's worth noting however that maybe the Undead are not all to be feared, maybe certain souls have simply been able to go on, while their bodies rot and fail.

 

One can imagine an Animat factory, the walls lined with the forms of undying warriors. All lifeless and still, but power yet crackling between them and idling, ready to unleash an army upon the world. Imagine creeping through such a place, shadows leaping and witchlights flickering, watching every which way for any hint of movement or semblance of life. That might be quite interesting and atmospheric if presented correctly, perhaps with the ocassional twitching limb and swivelling head, before inevitably the first Animat steps down from its plinth and a thousand heads turn to behold the players.

 

Personally I wouldn't be against incorporeal Undead whom cannot be killed, merely warded away with fire, spells or perhaps dispersed with cold iron. One can imagine an Alien like situation, all claustrophobic corridors and echoing darkness, where the creature is hunting the party, and they must simply endure and struggle until reaching its resting place. Like the Lich in Upper Dorn's Deep but with more taunting and horror, perhaps a final defence around its tomb while an exorcism is performed.

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Quite an experience to live in misery isn't it? That's what it is to be married with children.

I've seen things you people can't even imagine. Pearly Kings glittering on the Elephant and Castle, Morris Men dancing 'til the last light of midsummer. I watched Druid fires burning in the ruins of Stonehenge, and Yorkshiremen gurning for prizes. All these things will be lost in time, like alopecia on a skinhead. Time for tiffin.

 

Tea for the teapot!

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I can remember a PnP game I played once where we had become somewhat complacent and careless. The DM saw this and set us up. We just waltzed recklessly into a room occupied by a Banshee and a couple of other nasties. What ensued was pandemonium and party hysteria. We managed to pull though, but we had to pretty much retreat out of the dungeon after the fight was over because the party was all kinds of screwed up with long-term effects.

 

You just answered your own question with this anecdote.

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I really liked the vampires in Sunshine. Even the good vampire drinks the heroin's tears as a palliative when he has no access to blood, and there's a significant risk of him going into a blood frenzy when he fights. Very strange, and you get the impression of something thats an enemy on multiple modes of existence.

 

I just cleared out a nest of eye-eating spiders in Fallen London, and they seem to regard eyes with magical/religious significance. I imagine these or something like the Skinners in Balder's Gate II would be a great addition; enemies thar collect body parts are just cool.

 

I agree with the OP. Middletier enemies are really hard to make, and frequently play as reskinned early tier enemies, or just trash mobs. I think the best way to make mid-tier enemies frightening is to require a hard counter, but make that counter available to everyone. Trolls were very effective in BG II because of their hard acid/fire rule. I think if there was a way to coat your sword in acid, but enemies respawned on exit from an optional area, that would make a pretty good encounter.

 

I'm not too worried though. Cazadores were one of the most effective midtier enemies in years, and it shows that Obsidian understands the importance of status effects. I personally think the Skuldr (though not undead) and Wichts sound pretty creepy.

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Personally I wouldn't be against incorporeal Undead whom cannot be killed, merely warded away with fire, spells or perhaps dispersed with cold iron.

Holy water, blessed items as a temporary screen dependent upon the faith or "resolve" of the cleric in question would work well in this situation.

 

One can imagine an Alien like situation, all claustrophobic corridors and echoing darkness, where the creature is hunting the party, and they must simply endure and struggle until reaching its resting place. Like the Lich in Upper Dorn's Deep but with more taunting and horror, perhaps a final defence around its tomb while an exorcism is performed.

Oh my, but how certain segments of the player population would howl about not being able to kill the ghost outright and being forced to run the gauntlet before the undead spirit wore down the resolve/stamina of the warding priest. All the more reason to do this, Obsidian!

Edited by Tsuga C

http://cbrrescue.org/

 

Go afield with a good attitude, with respect for the wildlife you hunt and for the forests and fields in which you walk. Immerse yourself in the outdoors experience. It will cleanse your soul and make you a better person.----Fred Bear

 

http://michigansaf.org/

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Atmospheric music and really low light (requiring a torch or light spell to see well) would go a long way to making it scarier. This combined with the undead (middle level and higher) not being pushovers is what I would like.

 

Atmosphere is something many RPGs miss when it comes to undead IMHO.

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I'm with Nonek and Wolfengang - if undead are to be creepy, they can't just be more hack-fodder for the player.  You see this in successful horror games; generally speaking, you have little power to combat the evil around you.  The haunted hotel in Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines was awesome, and yet you never directly confront the ghost with the axe.  You just survive as best you can, while the atmosphere and scripted events stimulate your imagination and provide ample tension.

 

That being said, I have to agree that zombies and the like have become so common as to remove any impact from the player in most situations.  This isn't to say that zombies can't be scary, just that it is harder now when people have seen every variation of zombie attack 20 times over (also, they're slow and mindless.  Without crushing numbers or a tendency to leap from the shadows, they're not particularly intimidating).

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I'm with Nonek and Wolfengang - if undead are to be creepy, they can't just be more hack-fodder for the player.  You see this in successful horror games; generally speaking, you have little power to combat the evil around you.  The haunted hotel in Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines was awesome, and yet you never directly confront the ghost with the axe.  You just survive as best you can, while the atmosphere and scripted events stimulate your imagination and provide ample tension.

 

That being said, I have to agree that zombies and the like have become so common as to remove any impact from the player in most situations.  This isn't to say that zombies can't be scary, just that it is harder now when people have seen every variation of zombie attack 20 times over (also, they're slow and mindless.  Without crushing numbers or a tendency to leap from the shadows, they're not particularly intimidating).

Agree you can't have horror if the undead are pushovers. Original resident evil games were scary because the monsters actually felt like a threat. So instead of making undead like zombies panies 2 or more zombies flanking a player would have the power to overwhelm him. I'm guessing when it comes to spooky atmosphere they'll go with the scary music and atmosphere like every other isometric game that is not horror focused. 

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I really love how the Draugr in Skyrim were done, especially when playing with one of these dynamic lights (and darker dungeons/nights) mods: You cannot see them right away and have to listen carefully if something is coming from the dark; and you never know if you'll find riches or death by the hands of some Draugr Deathlord around the next corner. In my last playthrough of Skyrim I had several near heart attacks in some of my crypt explorations. That constant fear of what lurks in the dark, guarding treasures and the resting place of the dead; that's what I love when confronted with the undead. Oh, and glowing eyes, of course; but please no sparkle... :-

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FdSm3p1.png

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The undead are just suffering from the same dry spell of creativity that has hit most fictional works since the industrial age. Writers just have a defined archetypes and just reimagine them to suit the needs of their story. So when it comes to certain elements they may find it difficult to part from the popular notion while they are trying to redefine them.

I'd say the answer to that question is kind of like the answer to "who's the sucker in this poker game?"*

 

*If you can't tell, it's you. ;)

village_idiot.gif

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One ancient undead with superior intellect should be able to challenge the best of parties for days and weeks, and if that party is foolish enough to seek out that undead in its lair, say a castle like Ravenloft, well, then that would be more or less a suicide mission. That's how I'd like to have at least a few undead.

 

P.S. But yes, Aluminiumtrioxid, the Draugr were pretty creepy in Skyrim, for the first few hours...

Edited by IndiraLightfoot

*** "The words of someone who feels ever more the ent among saplings when playing CRPGs" ***

 

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The Ghost People of Dead Money were very nicely implemented and original in my humble opinion, one of the few times in modern games where the old pulse beat a little faster.

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Quite an experience to live in misery isn't it? That's what it is to be married with children.

I've seen things you people can't even imagine. Pearly Kings glittering on the Elephant and Castle, Morris Men dancing 'til the last light of midsummer. I watched Druid fires burning in the ruins of Stonehenge, and Yorkshiremen gurning for prizes. All these things will be lost in time, like alopecia on a skinhead. Time for tiffin.

 

Tea for the teapot!

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I use to play an undead army in Warhammer since the 90's. While skeleton and zombies are weak, they are relentless, they don't know what fatigue, fear, suffering is. They have the special rule fear, which can make flee the thougher warriors... I like the idea of this relentless horde with no will, just cursed and controled as tools... They should pursue you for years without beeing bored.

 

Diablo 1 was great to inspire fear. Music, dark dungeons, shouts in the dark, (unhability to run too?)... Even the powerless ennemies were fearsome, and that's why Diablo I is great in my opinion, and Diablo II is just a piece of trash.

 

Someone said ambience is a great deal here. And i'm agree. It's not easy to craft well. But some special rules that can inspire the idea of this fearsome, relentless horde may do the job.

 

I don't think that new is always better. Well crafted old may just be ok.

Edited by Abel
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Yeah, while I'd like to see more undead enemies that can't be fought (like the ghost from Bloodlines that someone else mentioned) and need to be avoided or exorcised with some ritual, a smaller change that could be made would just be sound design. I recently started replaying Daggerfall, which I hadn't played since the 90s, and was surprised to find that the dungeons in that game are actually scary. This is due in large part to the fact that you can hear enemies long before you figure out where they actually are. Also, the disembodied voice of the king's spirit in Daggerfall city combined with the specters that attack you definitely get's the heart rate up.

 

So, sound design is a key element in instilling fear, but I don't think it's enough in-and-of-itself. In DA:O, the disembodied voice in deep roads wasn't all that scary because, unlike in Daggerfall, it wasn't accompanied by some unseen enemy that could conceivably attack the player without warning at any time. The voice in DA:O was a bit creepy, but you knew you were in no real danger.   

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Unless you break the game, the undead in the Elder Scrolls games scale up to high levels. I agree that it's a shame that you get "trash" skeletons at low levels (remember when you couldn't even fight the undead until you got a silver or enchanted weapon?) but I think that the presence of high undead in a game means that you always give them due respect.

 

Really terrifying undead able to cast status effects would be great/horrible, but I suppose most fantasy games don't tend to have undead as master level enemies because they go down the line of having high level human casters or dragons or something like that.

 

Good question though o/p.

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I think BG made a good job with Vampires and Lichs. Imagine encountering a Vampire in BG 1 at a low level - the party would be slaughtered like sheep, as it should be. And even in BG2 vampires could be deadly for an unprepared mid-level party with their level drain, domination, weapon immunity, regeneration and speed.

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