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Undead in the Hollow Moon Setting

by Sharon Dornhoff

Though the Spell of Remembrance doesn't really do anything to the undead one way or the other, undead deserve a mention here, simply so I can answer the inevitable question: "If it's so danged dark in the Hollow Moon, all the time, why haven't vampires/wights/spectres/whatever taken it over, ages ago...?" (Well, maybe it's not inevitable that everyone will ask this ... but given how many people play undead-happy WW games today, it's bound to come up, sooner or later! ;-D) Supposedly, the Hollow World is relatively free of undead, as even those undead which DON'T have a physical vulnerability to sunlight -- i.e. pretty much everything except vampires -- are assumed to dislike moving around in the daytime. But in a twilight world, where the sun never rises to burn up Count So-And-So, you might expect that "contagious" undead, such as energy-draining wights or infectious nosferatu, would quickly spread their conditions to entire populations.

It hasn't worked out that way. In fact, while there's no shortage of undead on Matera, the types which are most common there AREN'T the same kinds -- wights, wraiths, spectres, vampires -- which can spread their particular curses to other people, merely by draining their life energy. Most encounters with HM undead are with varieties which come into existence because their souls cannot rest for some reason ... haunting figures such as the OD&D game's powerful phantoms, haunts, and spirits, or the bizarre variant-undead of the AD&D Ravenloft setting. Undead created by necromantic magics -- mummies, zombies, skeletons -- are also found in the Hollow Moon, but only in those (surprisingly few) cultures where the dead are laid to rest intact. Cultures which cremate their dead, or expose them to the elements (and thus to the scavenger-race of pisachas, who make short work of such finds), are seldom troubled by corporeal undead of any sort.

The reason why level-draining undead aren't common on Matera is that, while most varieties (except vampires) are able to roam about freely at any time during the lunar "day", these undead face great difficulties in ensuring their victims will return as undead under their control. Not many Mystarans realise it, but becoming a wight/wraith/spectre after being level-drained to death ISN'T automatic; rather, it's what happens if -- and only if -- the slain victim's soul can be captured and retrieved from Limbo (a netherworldly plane of the restless dead) by his or her slayer. After killing a character on Mystara, a wight or other level-draining undead must project its own soul into Limbo and stalk the victim a second time, making but one attempt each night for four consecutive nights. As the victim's soul has the same "levels" as he or she'd had, to start with, the undead stalker may "energy drain" the hunted soul all over again (!), until the soul is reduced to 0-level (="Normal Man") status or is destroyed. Only after a hunted soul has been drained to 0-level a second time, in Limbo, can the undead who slew him or her retrieve the twice-drained soul, bring it back to the Prime Plane, and transform it into a subordinate wight/wraith/spectre. (For further details, see the VPA articles, Part 27: "To Death And Back".)

The trouble for level-draining undead of these sorts, in the Hollow Moon setting, is that the usual "four nights, four tries" rule still applies there... but as nights are figured on Matera, not on Mystara! The phenomenon of the sun (well, what little gets through the Firmament) rising and setting, to count off the days, paints a vivid analogy to death and rebirth, hence is a potent constraint upon the undead, who have rejected this cycle. And Materan "nights" are actually 14 Mystaran days long. An undead which slays a victim between the HM "true" dawn and "true" dusk -- i.e. between 0600 and 1800 on our made-up clock face; this corresponds to any date between the 22nd of one month and the 7th of the next, on Mystara -- must wait until "sunset" (1800 hours, or midnight of the 7th) to pursue its victim into Limbo; so long as the greenish glow of the sun is still dimly-visible through the Firmament, the victim's soul is safe and the victim's body and spirit will not rise from the dead. Should a victim be able to win eternal rest, by that time (again, see the VPA articles for details), the undead who slew him or her will arrive too late: the victim's soul has passed on to the plane of his or her Immortal patron, and there's nothing left to bring back, for the purpose of creating a new undead monster. This escape should always be possible for victims who are slain by "daylight", on any but the last 96 hours of Materan "daytime".

If a victim is slain up to 96 hours before the lunar "sunset" takes place, or at any time between the Hollow Moon's dusk and dawn, the undead slayer is able to project its soul to Limbo in pursuit of the victim's soul as soon as it finds a safe place to stash its Prime Plane body. Even then, it is limited by the "four nights, four tries" rule, such that it may make only one attempt to collar its prey per Materan "night" ... and if this attempt fails -- unlike similar efforts by a Mystaran undead, who gets three more tries -- its victim is sure to pass on to eternal rest, before the creature gets another chance! Thus, many victims who would otherwise be transformed into level-draining undead, on Mystara, are spared this fate on Matera: instead of rising under their slayers' domination, they're just plain dead. For slain PCs, DMs may wish to play out their attempts to elude or fight off their undead foes in Limbo; for NPCs, or for the player characters of DMs who don't want to bother, a save vs Death should suffice to determine if a night-slain victim of the undead can elude pursuit, and remain in a state of true death, or fails to do so and returns as a wight, wraith, or spectre. If a victim was slain in the last 96 hours of the "night", OR of the "day", the save is at +3, as the slayer has less time to pursue its victim before lunar "dawn" interrupts its doings or the day-slain victim (who has a "head start") escapes*.

[* - This is a simplification of the rules for Limbo, as given in VPA pt. 27. Because the article's rules for how time goes progressively slower in Limbo are rather confusing, and because many readers will not have access to the full text of "To Death And Back", I didn't want to go too deeply into the details as to how long an undead has, to find and retrieve its victim in Limbo. If you play out a single battle between the intended PC victim (use their usual stats, including equipment carried and any spells in memory at the time of death) and the stalking undead (use its normal HD and other statistics, plus the spell-like powers of Hold Person, Phantasmal Force, Web, Continual Darkness, and Hallucinatory Terrain, useable one time each), that's probably good enough.]

Because of these problems in transmitting their condition, wights, wraiths and spectres -- along with unique undead in the same level-draining vein, e.g. Landryn Teriak in his undead form -- are much rarer than they'd normally be. With only a 70% chance of passing on their state to "Normal Man"-types at night, a 55% chance in the hours immediately before dawn or dusk, and no chance at all of doing so by day (lunar time), these undead are more likely to rise from the grave as their punishment for individual wrongdoings, or as a result of ill-conceived bargains with Entropic forces, than as the victims of their fellow undead*. Exception: Occasionally, a more powerful undead (e.g. a velya) will cause its victims to return as subordinate wights, wraiths or spectres, instead of as undead of its own type; as this process does NOT require the powerful undead in question to visit Limbo, the victims' return as undead happens normally, on Matera.

[* - Note that the RC claim that apparitions' victims return as apparitions under their slayers' control is incorrect, according to the VPA article. Rather, apparitions are projections sent from Limbo by some of that plane's most powerful denizens, to retrieve victims which have escaped into the Prime Plane. Because these evil denizens often shape their apparitions to resemble some previous victim, Mystarans are misled into thinking they ARE those victims returned from the dead, and hence, that apparitions are "contagious". The phygorax (a "contagious" aquatic undead from AC9 ... and a rather silly one, if you ask me! :-P) is unknown in the HM setting.]

Aside from wights, wraiths and spectres, vampires are the only major undead-type which is greatly impaired by the Hollow Moon's environment. Although Ixion did not play an active part in Matera's internal terraforming or its operation as a "museum setting" -- the very prospect of a world with no daylight was offensive, to the volatile Sun-Prince -- he had second thoughts when he realised what his friendly rival, Nyx, might make of such a twilight world, with nothing to counter her undead-fostering efforts! Therefore, while he couldn't very well ask Ka and the others to include him in the Hollow Moon's "design team", at that late date, without looking foolish, he COULD intervene through the power of his own portfolio: his dominion over sunlight. Rather than let the HM setting become an unrestricted breeding ground for vampires, Ixion arranged for those particular rays of sunlight which were able to penetrate Matera's Firmament -- the colours green, blue, and purple, plus ultraviolet -- to emerge into the Hollow Moon as a radiance which is almost as baneful to vampires and young (less than 50 years) nosferatu as full Mystaran sunlight. Although it does not destroy them, HM "daylight" deprives these varieties of undead of the better part of their powers: they cannot change shape, regenerate damage, summon animals or drain energy/blood when exposed to direct rays of the green Hollow Moon "sun". (They still assume gaseous form if reduce to 0 hp, however.) Their immunity to normal weapons is reduced so that silver weapons can also affect them, albeit for half damage. HM vampires and nosferatu do retain the power to Charm victims with their gaze, and (in AD&D games) the power to Spider Climb, even under the Firmament's strongest light. All of the usual special abilities and defences for these monsters will reappear instantaneously, if the lunar "dusk" takes place, or it they take shelter from the ambient Firmament-light in a cavern or reasonably light-proof building.

Like the undead energy-drainers, vampiric undead are also inconvenienced by the Hollow Moon's month-long "days". While 8 hours of rest in its coffin is sufficient for either variety to "sleep" -- which both vampires and nosferatu must do at least once every 24 hours, whatever the time of lunar "day" -- and so avoid hp loss, any vampire/nosferatu which is reduced to 0 hp, and forced to flee in gaseous form, must spend a full MATERAN night in its resting place: a 14-day snooze, as Mystarans reckon time!

Given that this sort of incapacity usually happens after a deadly encounter with enemies, who are likely to hunt down the creature's coffin and destroy it in its "sleep", many Materan vampires or nosferatu don't survive their first "forced" stay in their resting-places. Those that DO chance to wake up again, after -- and to realise just how long they'd been lying there, helpless and oblivious -- invariably grow even more obsessive about hiding their coffins, maintaining multiple coffins, and guarding those they have from discovery or attack, than is usual for such undead. (Whereas a typical Mystaran vampire might have three coffins, a typical Materan vampire will have three DOZEN.) Because it's hard enough to hide that many coffins, for a single vampire/nosferatu -- and because the population of most HM nations isn't large enough to support more than one or two such creatures' depredations, anyway -- vampire-type undead only create more of their kind if they have a VERY strong reason, in the Hollow Moon.

As for Mystara's other varieties of undead, there are a few kinds which simply haven't yet made it to Matera ... not because they can't survive in the HM, but because no Immortal's ever succeeded in sending them! Living beholders are far from endangered and have never been sent to the Hollow Moon, so undead beholders aren't found there. "Ghoulish" undead -- including not only "common" ghouls, but also the elder ghouls and agarats of OD&D and lacedons, ghasts and ghoul lords of AD&D -- have been delivered to the HM setting, or roused from Materan graves by Entropic forces; but such monstrosities have never become permanently established, anyplace except for the open crystalbarrens*. The repulsive yeshom of the RS setting haven't made it to the Redlands, though arashaeem (RS aranea liches) do occur near the HM Old Aran. The lack of planar gates to the Hollow Moon has prevented death leeches from appearing there.

[* - Everywhere else, territorial pisachas wipe them out -- and eat them, too -- as soon as they discover any of these despised competitors for their ecological niche. :-)]

Finally, although the long "days" on Matera work against the undead in some respects, there is one way that it gives them an edge over their Mystaran counterparts: because a month is just "one day", by lunar astronomy, the occurrence of a full moon does NOT free the pawns of an undead liege from its control. Rather, a liege's control lasts until it is voluntarily released, either liege or pawn is destroyed, or one of the Materan year's two severe Fire Times (at the beginning and at the middle of the setting's 18-month "year"; see the HM calendar) takes place. Thus, whereas a Mystaran undead liege must reclaim control over its pawns on a monthly basis, a Materan liege has up to NINE MONTHS of uninterrupted dominion over its lesser undead minions ... enough time to carry out a small war, and to build up a considerable "chain of command" of subordinate lieges, if it so desires.