Author: Andy Collins & Bruce Cordell
|Publisher: Wizards of the Coast|
Publish Date: 10/2004
Retail Price: $29.95
Over the past few years, there have been very few D&D books published by Wizards of the Coast that have been a true joy to read. Some I considered “alright,” some were “pretty good” and some were simply a struggle to read through. Libris Mortis was nothing short of wonderful by comparison to its contemporaries.
The book begins with a chapter entitled “All About Undead.” This chapter touches on what it means to be undead, including several possible ways to view negative energy, the force that supports and sustains the undead. The physiology of each type of undead from Monster Manuals I, II, & III, Fiend Folio, and Libris Mortis is detailed, especially the feeding habits, whether this means actually eating as a ghoul does, or simply draining away parts of the living as an allip does when it drains Wisdom from the living. A simple system for determining how badly the undead desires and possibly requires its sustenance is given. If you’ve ever wondered what happens to a vampire if it doesn’t get a regular supply of blood, this should interest you.
The chapter also spares a look at undead psychology and outlook. How does the outlook on existence change when one dies and is “reborn” without the same needs or possibly desires as it had when it was alive? How do undead view each other, or members of other undead “species,” and do they form any sorts of societies? These are some of the questions answered in this chapter. Undead religion is discussed, and as members of a “species” that is identified with the Knowledge (religion) skill, it seems important to understand how the undead view and practice religion.
Lastly, the chapter deals with how to combat the undead. Certainly, some methods, such as turning or rebuking, work against all undead. However, there is a world of difference between fighting a mohrg and fighting a ghost. The most popular methods for fighting and defending against the undead are detailed.
Chapter two begins with a list of new feats. More than a few are divine feats, feats that require the expenditure of a turn/rebuke undead to function. Even more are feats designed to apply to the undead themselves, to make them stronger, more resistant to turning or to enhance their already-potent natural abilities. The lion’s share of the feats, however, are designed for those who either create or combat the undead. Worth mentioning on its own is the Mother Cyst feat, which allows one to grow a tumor of undead flesh within his body. This tumor is the focus for several spells that the caster would be otherwise unable to access.
The second part of this chapter deals with having undead in the adventuring party. At a high enough level, it’s no problem to introduce a powerful undead into the party, but what if a player desperately wants to play an undead PC at a lower level? Enter the monster classes system pioneered in Savage Species. Each of the non-template corporeal undead that aren’t mindless from the Monster Manual (the ghoul, ghast, mohrg, mummy, vampire spawn and wight) is given a level progression that allows someone to play a weaker-than-normal version of the creature and gains levels in that “monster class” until it becomes as powerful as the version given in the Monster Manual.
The third chapter dealt with prestige classes. For a Wizards of the Coast book, this chapter was surprisingly small. Some of the classes were designed to combat the undead, such as the Master of Radiance. Others were designed to make use of the undead, such as the True Necromancer. Lastly, some were designed only to be applied to the undead themselves, such as the Master Vampire. Uncharacteristically, I had very few problems with any of the prestige classes offered in this chapter.
Chapter four contained new spells, and was also surprisingly small for a Wizards of the Coast book. A few new domains were offered, but the really interesting part of this chapter dealt with the necrotic cyst line of spells, which is only available to a caster that has the Mother Cyst feat. These spells allow a caster to do some seriously disturbing things to a target once the initial spell, necrotic cyst has been cast and a cyst of undead flesh has been implanted in the victim. Such things include having the cyst grow instantly, harming the victim’s internals as it does so, or explode, also harming the victim and at the highest level, a caster can actually cause the cyst to envelop the victim, destroying him mind, body and soul.
The fifth chapter was a short description of new alchemical and magic items related to the undead. Special armors that protect the undead from their weaknesses or grant undead-like abilities upon their living wearers were introduced. Additionally, undead grafts, which can be applied by someone with the Graft Flesh feat were listed. These are pieces of destroyed undead that can be grafted onto the living or the undead, thus granting the subject a nearly-permanent magic item with very special abilities. For example, if someone has their own eye removed and a mummy’s eye grafted in its place, it can use the new eye to create an eyebite effect once per day. The only problem I had with this chapter was a new alchemical creation called a positoxin, which acts like poison to the undead. This, to me, seems like a cheap way of getting around one of the immunities that the undead all have, which I didn’t appreciate at all.
Chapter six was the largest chapter in the book and dealt with new monsters. Many of these new monsters are especially powerful and would pose a serious threat even to a party that was prepared to fight the undead. Some, such as the blaspheme, seem to have been created to fool experienced players into believing that their PCs are up against weaker undead than is actually the case, much like one could mistake a mohrg for a skeleton. An interesting new template offered in this chapter, the necropolitan, offers a nice method to convert a person into an undead creature without giving it a whole host of new powerful abilities to go along with the change.
The final chapter dealt with the inclusion of undead into the campaign. It gave advice for the DM about how to prepare for the PCs to fight undead with certain abilities, such as incorporealness and level drain. Sample versions of many types of undead were given, being fleshed out like NPCs. Finally, a few sample locations involving the undead are detailed that are pretty much ready to be dropped into any game quickly and easily.
I’d have to say at this point that Libris Mortis is among the best books published by Wizards of the Coast since 3rd edition was released. I’d heartily recommend it to anyone wishing to include more undead in his game or to better flesh out existing undead encounters.