Whether from an ancient curse or fell necromancy, one of the most terrifying of all supernatural disasters is the undead plague—the dead emerging from their graves to claim the living. This disaster can strike any area where the dead have been laid to rest, not just towns and cities. More than one blood-soaked battlefield has given rise to a legion of desiccated undead warriors.
Undead plagues occur in waves, with the timing varying according to the underlying forces at play. The events may happen over the course of only a few days, devastating a city, or be spread out over weeks as the terrified populace cowers behind locked doors and struggles to survive. During the day, life often returns to some semblance of normalcy, as the light of day briefly suppresses the power of the undead.
The Unquiet Dead
On the first nights of an undead plague, the bodies of the recently dead rise as zombies. Those interred in consecrated ground remain at rest, but bodies left unburied or in mass graves lurch out into the streets, wreaking havoc. At first, only a few corpses are able to free themselves from their coffins and tombs, but each night, more bodies return to walk the land of the living. When dawn breaks, the dead seek safety in their graves or other hidden places. Any caught in the daylight flail about confused, as per the condition until they are destroyed or manage to stagger into shelter. At the GM’s discretion, non-humanoid corpses may rise as undead on subsequent nights.
As the plague progresses, older and older corpses join the shambling ranks of the undead. Skeletons wearing traces of long-rotted funeral garb claw their way out of graveyards and crypts, and act with a malevolence and organization rarely encountered among their ilk. The undead remain mindless, but the magical power behind the incursion gives them the efficiency and tactical acumen of a living army. The skeletons seek out weapons and armor to gird themselves for battle. Elite skeletal champions lead the troops, wielding magic items scavenged from abandoned graves. Eventually, ghouls and wights prowl the streets after dark as well, along with other lesser, free-willed undead.
As the plague gathers strength, the unquiet souls of bodies long since turned to dust awaken as well. Ghosts, Shadows, Wraiths, and even Spectres arise to prey upon the living. A handful of the ghosts might be free from the malevolent influence of the plague, and enterprising PCs may be able to glean valuable intelligence from these troubled spirits.
The infusion of negative energy strengthens the undead within the area of the incursion, providing the benefits of a desecrate spell. Areas that were once consecrated are now treated as normal ground, and may well provide new sources of corpses for the undead armies, but hallowed ground remains inviolate. As the undead grow stronger, the growing flood of negative energy brings the Shadowlands closer, leaving colors muted or gray except during the brightest hours of daylight. Even those undead most vulnerable to light can move about with impunity from late afternoon to mid-morning.
If the flow of negative energy is not reversed, darkness finally claims the area, cloaking it in perpetual shadow. The entire area of the undead plague functions as if under the effects of an unhallow spell (with no additional spell effect tied to it). Hallowed ground remains a rare sanctuary, but only until destroyed by the malevolent forces without. Heroes who perished in the battle against the plague return as fearsome undead generals. The few living survivors are enslaved as thralls. The area becomes a city of the dead, or construction begins if no such city existed or survived. Free-willed undead flock to this new sanctuary, and only the greatest of heroes can return this now-blighted area to the world of the living.