Immaterial undead are known by many different names, Ghost, Wraith, Spectre, Ancestor among them. When a living creature dies, its soul is meant to travel to the court of the dead for judgement. However, some souls either remain in the Middle World, or are called back for some purpose.
When in the Middle World, these souls act like any other spirit, being able to be bargained with, befriended, worshipped and offended. Many societies will call their favoured ancestors to once again walk the world during holy days, that they may share their wisdom in return for gifts. Others will call on their ancestors for aid, providing charms for them to inhabit, to once again experience the world through their descendants.
Not all people or souls are so quick to be allies, and angry ghosts can plague their slayer or his allies, or be bound into charms and fetishes unwillingly by shamans.
The animated undead are the result of binding a spirit into a dead body. If the body is not preserved, the flesh will continue to rot, although this in no way hampers the functioning of the walking corpse. In fact, they will continue to act until their remains are wholly destroyed, or the spirit possessing them is banished.
Necromantic scholars have named them differently depending on the spirit in question, so that Zombies are said to be the result of binding the body's former soul into it before it reaches the court of the dead. Ghouls are evil spirits from the underworld that devour the flesh of the living for sustenance, and animate bodies to do so. Sorcerers animate Skeletons using unintelligent spirits much like an Elemental. Despite this, in practice most people will use the same term to refer to any number of undead monsters.
The material undead are the unnatural ones. Vampire, Lamia, Mummy, Draugr. The bodies which walk without life. Here we get an interesting question. What separates the undead from the living?
It may seem a strange question with an obvious answer, but with HeroQuest2 in Glorantha the answer can provide some interesting opportunities.
We know the undead lack life, being walking corpses, but this is not always the entirety of the matter. In the third edition of RuneQuest the undead were incomplete beings, lacking the POW characteristic. POW was a creature's soul or life force, their connection with the Otherworld and their capacity to work certain forms of magic.
While HeroQuest2 has no direct equivalent of the POW characteristic, a character's Runes are somewhat similar, providing magic and acting as the basis for their personality.
If we take that as a base, it would make sense for undead in HeroQuest2 to have no Runes. This would have some interesting knock on effects, such as:
1: Theism. The undead would lack divine rune affinities, preventing them from using theistic magic. On the other hand, there would be nothing preventing them from using animism or wizardry, unless the tradition or school required a rune to join (such as Kolat).
2: Personality. Lacking any connection to the Runes will result in a less imposing personality. While nothing prevents the undead from having personality traits as abilities, they do not have the same core personality traits as others. Making them seem colder, and less emotional.
3: Soullessness. When viewed using magical senses, the undead are practically invisible, as they leave no impression on the world. Undead hating cults will often provide specialized magic to spot these creatures by their absence.
This invisibility leaves its mark on the Middle World as well, with the undead lacking many signs of having a soul, such as no shadow, no breath, and no reflection.
Of course, there are several ways around these weaknesses. Many undead become accomplished sorcerers, favouring the usage of Tapping, to drain their victims of their Runes, and using that energy to work their own magic in turn. This leaves their victims with wounded souls, becoming more emotionless as their Runes fade away. Many victims of undead attacks are little more than husks when the undead have finished with them.
Other undead have bound spirits into themselves, even their own ghostly remains. This mixture of bodiless soul and soulless body allows them to return to a state akin to life, granting them Runes once more. On many occasions, these Runes will not be the ones they possessed in life. Many undead favouring the Runes of Death and Darkness, believing them better suited to their new existence.
|The Unlife Rune|
What of the Unlife Rune then? It does not describe the immaterial or animated dead for they are created with other powers. The spirit of a man and the spirit of a horse are not connected with the Rune, but instead the appropriate form Runes. The same applies to those spirits possessing a corpse.
This would leave the Unlife Rune as being linked to the material, soulless undead, a seeming impossibility if these beings do not have Runes at all. However, the Rune itself is a paradoxical combination of Life and Death, perverted by the power of Chaos, which thrives on such apparent impossibilities. And those mortal servants of the undead would find it an attractive option for commanding the dead in imitation of their masters.
Of course, it is quite possible the Unlife Rune does not refer to the Undead at all, but that which the Undead represent, the gnawing devouring nature of Chaos, which feeds on the Life of the cosmos. The Rune itself has been called the Hunger Rune, and this does make sense in this light. Perhaps the Rune itself is something that was created to describe that which cannot exist, but desires to. An attempt at giving form to something that truly should not be.