I’ve never been really happy with how undead work in D&D. I’ve got some changes below that I think will improve them in play and make them better fit my image of them.
Note that much of this article has since been folded into my article on Revising Monster Types, published Feb 2, 2007.
Undead are supposed to be fearsome creatures, but I find they tend to be fairly fragile for their Challenge Rating. Yes, they have use d12 as their Hit Dice, but the lack of a Constitution modifier hurts them. This isn’t such a big deal for mindless undead — their abilities are so limited otherwise that giving them more hit dice is reasonably safe (from a DM’s perspective). This shows up more with intelligent undead, since they often have low HD for their CR.
I think undead *should* get a modifier to their hit points per Hit Die. They have no Constitution score, so we can’t use that. It seems that a big part of the reason intelligent undead exist is their refusal to stay dead — their will is the primary force behind their returning.
Charisma is the ability score measuring ‘strength (or force) of will’. It is used in place of Constitution when making Concentration checks. I propose that intelligent undead use their Charisma modifier in place of Constitution modifier when determining Hit Dice. This will give them some more hit points (I can’t think of any intelligent undead that have a Charisma penalty) and make them a little more resilient, without making them much more dangerous (as adding more Hit Dice would).
This is pretty simple. All undead were formerly living creatures. All undead are now unliving-but-still-moving creatures. This is a significant change to their basic structure. Such changes are usually best modeled with a template.
Therefore, all undead ‘monsters’ should in fact be templates. These templates may be applied to creatures (of most mortal types, now!) to create a wider range of undead.
Most undead templates will be fairly straightforward, I think.
Unintelligent undead (skeletons and zombies in RSRD, I can’t think of any others offhand) seem a little out of place. They are animated by spells, they are mindless (unlike all other undead, I think), and are little more than automatons.
Therefore, I expect to make them constructs rather than undead. They are unpleasant (and unsanitary) constructs made of the grisly remains of formerly-living creatures, and being seen using them will likely make you unpopular in your Home Owners’ Association. However, to me they lack the sense of personality that other undead exhibit (in fact, because of their Cha 1 they arguable *have* no personality whatsoever).
By making them constructs they are little more than unliving killing machines. They can take simple programming, and that’s it. Making them constructs also gives them a better Base Attack Bonus (constructs use ‘cleric BAB’ rather than ‘wizard BAB’) and more hit points (if they are at least Small size; Tiny and smaller constructs actually have slightly fewer hit points than they would as undead). It may be necessary to examine Challenge Rating for these creatures, but my first impression is that it won’t be too bad — these creatures are generally fairly safe to destroy for their Hit Dice.
This does mean they would be immune to turning. Since I see turning as a contest of wills between the turner and the creature being turned (and am changing the rules to reflect this), I don’t have a problem with this change.