I have a setting where the cycle of life is well known and proven. A creature must be born, grow old, and die. After that, its soul goes to the Otherworld, and will born again.

The world is built upon dualism: there's a god of light and a god of darkness; mother and father; birth and death; etc. (19 gods, with one almighty force included). Their existence is also well known and proven, but their assumed power varies culture by culture.

Now I have a lot of story ideas involving undead creatures, but I can't explain how, and what types of creatures could exist. It is certain that such creatures can't have a soul, as having one is the one and only requirement to be called a living creature (animals and plants have soul, too.)

Edit: I’m not in need of creatures per se. I just can’t conceptualise how the God of Death won’t interfere if such creatures are created; her role is to help Souls to the Otherworld when they die, while the God of Birth rules the other way around.

Edit2 (the Cycle of Life): as the Parents ruled, every creature must born, from the power of Garquon, Lord of Birth. Upon a set time, which is different for all races, Ketirai, Lady of Death shall farce her to the Passage. From the Passage the Soul must find its way to Shutra (ie. the Otherworld) where it can rest, to be reborn again. When the time comes, the Soul can get back to the Planes of existence through the Passage.

Edit3: the undeads in my story ideas range from unintelligent (maybe insentient) beings used as expendable soldiers, to highly intelligent beings, like liches. I can easily conceptualise the former (animating dead bodies with magic), but the latter causes some troubles (see Edit2).

The second edit may be used to achieve what I want: some mechanics on how undead creatures can exist in a world where the cycle of life is effectively set to stone.


closed as unclear what you're asking by L.Dutch, sphennings, Hohmannfan, Mołot, Mormacil May 30 '17 at 12:49

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not entirely sure what your question is? It sounds like you want us to brainstorm possible undead creature ideas? $\endgroup$ – Mormacil May 29 '17 at 21:39
  • $\begingroup$ What about a creature with a reverse cycle? It would "appear" normal but would lack a soul, the body cycling FROM the Otherworld to this one? $\endgroup$ – Isaac Kotlicky May 29 '17 at 23:01
  • $\begingroup$ May I suggest that you study the lore of a videogame named Dark Souls? $\endgroup$ – Pedro Gabriel May 29 '17 at 23:11
  • $\begingroup$ So all animals and everything are part of that cycle and not a couple are excluded (for their evil deeds for example or because of curses) that can be raised from the dead? But I'm not 100% sure what your question is tbo $\endgroup$ – Raditz_35 May 30 '17 at 10:59
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    $\begingroup$ If both the gods of life and death rule over the transitions of souls, they would have no power over soulless undead. So that's not really a problem with the world as you've constructed it. $\endgroup$ – Isaac Kotlicky May 30 '17 at 13:12

10 Answers 10


Why do undead have to be evil or nefarious? Why not just have them be... different? (Yes, I know Discworld pulled that one off, but hear me out...)

The cycle as you describe has:

  1. soul inhabits body

  2. body dies

  3. soul departs to otherworldly process

  4. soul recycled into new body

This undead entity would be cycling in the OPPOSITE direction. Namely:

  1. Otherworldly dual faceted entity

  2. Otherworldly portion dies

  3. Undead portion departs to THIS world as a soulless body

  4. Upon physical destruction of body, rebirth in Otherworld

Basically, they're the counterpart to humans in the Otherworld, possessing a similar but opposite duality. In our plane of existence we only perceive them as inhuman zombies, much like in theirs a human soul would be like a ghost - spirit without substance.

The precise nature and form of these creatures would depend on how much fun you want to have with the mechanics. A particularly powerful undead might inhabit the recently deceased, while less fortunate ones might become poltergeist inhabiting inanimate objects. A war between the gods (or their servants) and the resulting casualties might result in particularly powerful undead who manifest physically purely through force of will.

Regardless, these undead might not be malicious, could well be beneficent, or even be "suicidal," trying to end the "soulless" portion of their existence as quickly as possible.


Have one of your 19 gods be responsible for undeadness.

  • Maybe this god is a creator wannabe. When the soul leaves the body this god makes a crappy copy of it and then stuffs it back in. The resulting creature is like the living one in some ways, but imperfect. Sort of like cut rate aftermarket parts.

  • Maybe this god uses dead bodies as shortcuts and puts his home-brew life-force in, or puts his spirit servants in these bodies to use as vehicles getting around on earth.

  • Maybe as a prank, this god diverts some other soul on the way to the Otherworld such that it never gets there, instead landing in a dead body and animates it. Maybe plant souls are really good for this because they can heal the problems in a damaged / dead animal body. Maybe the plant souls are cool with this, or maybe not, or maybe they are just confused.

The evil undead have been done to char-crispiness. I really like the idea of the prank undead, with the prank involving plant souls of uncertain motivation.

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from http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Swamp_Thing_Vol_5_40 Be sure to include that little corn dude.


First reply to a question, so bear with me.

If your cycle of life - biologically speaking - is proven, and there is evidence for a soul AND magic, and the soul leaving the body upon death is inevitable and irrevocable, then I'd have undead come about a couple of ways.

1, The previous inhabitant of the body (the relevant soul) was in the grip of an abnormally strong emotion/motivation/ambition/goal in the events that led to their death. The feeling would have to be overwhelming, something that focused their entire being into the flesh in an attempt to keep them alive. As a result, the will -separate from the soul- drives them on, moving said flesh after the soul has gone.

2, I'd have a God/idea/metaphor of mirrors or opposites. Maybe even a god of duality or conflict inherent in all things. Said god would have two aspects (naturally), one representing then natural progression of life, letting go when the time is right. The other would represent the will to carry on, to continue to fight and not surrender. Therefore one aspect would help the dead move on, and lacking a soul, the other aspect would drive the dead lacking souls to continue on, never giving up.


The main problem of the recycling souls idea is this: it assumes that creation of souls is separate from creation of bodies. And you can turn this problem to your advantage.

Simply put, either there is a fixed and finite amount of souls, or there is some sort of mechanism of creating additional souls that is not tied to actual procreation. As long as the latter mechanism has a limited throughput, sometimes a situation may arise when there are fewer souls available that there are bodies born. A locust swarm got a good year and grew thrice the usual size? Nearby forests will be teeming with undead animals, and nearby villages will have plenty of children born soulless.

Also, if souls can be created, then souls can be destroyed in one way or another. A soul-splitting bomb may be used to turn enemy city to undeath, or a natural disaster can bring about a localised zombie apocalypse.

Souls travel from dead bodies and later to newborn bodies. Both of those processes can be disturbed: souls of the dead can be captured to prevent their departure or to inflict punishment beyond the grave; newly arriving souls can be delayed till the body turns to undeath. There could be some sort of a magical crystal that dampens souls, and a cave system full of those crystals would house an undead colony, with undead giving birth to more undead.

  • $\begingroup$ or too many souls and not enough bodies so they go back to the old body $\endgroup$ – Separatrix May 30 '17 at 7:45
  • $\begingroup$ Most certainly, but while those would normally be considered a sort of undead, OP's definition would call those unfortunate creatures "living", since they do have a soul. $\endgroup$ – Alice May 30 '17 at 11:27
  • Undeads could "born" (after death) from evil people, I mean, sinful persons (thief, murders, aggressive persons, etc) darkness their own soul in their lives, and when they die, their souls aren't pure or something like that and the can't cross to the other world (there are too heavy to "fly" to the other world, or they can't pass a purity test made by one god, etc).
  • The sins of the people, the bad emotions (sad, anger, envy), blood, death, fury, etc, (I mean, bad things) are like an invisible cloud. If the cloud is little, it'll purify in some days, but if not, the cloud will make more big, thick and stronger each time "bad things" happen near. If this cloud is thick, then people can breathe it (it can condensate and contaminate water, soil, etc), when people are corrupted by the evilness, if their die, their souls are trapped inside the corrupted body (maybe souls can be corrupted also) and the manifest this evilness (this is why they kill), this undead have to be purified to go to the other world.
  • Dark magic (necromancy), necromances link souls to bodies to manipulate them (also link their own soul to their body so when they die, they can stay in this world).
  • Maybe this undead could be persons who die having a strong emotion or another kind of link with this world, I mean maybe these persons want to complete some task before to go to the other world, but in their soul state, they can't do almost anything (you are immaterial, you can't touch, speak, etc), and if they stay to much time in our world, their souls corrupt and become aggressive undead.

Edit in response to your clarification of the question;

I think the below suggestions still stand and make sense. As for why the God of Death doesn't get involved and prevent it from happening, I would suggest that the God doesn't get directly involved. Unless the idea of your world is that the Gods micro manage their domains then they probably just deal with the big picture rather than individually dealing with every soul say. They may have some kind of angel who help them, or priests who may be fallible so not every soul is processed correctly. Of course the destruction of the undead and moving on of their souls would be a big part of the job any priesthood of the God of Death.

If you do wish the God of Death to micro manage every aspect of the process of death and rebirth and they are omnipotent and/or omnipresent then I think undead are out of the question.

This is a topic I've considered for quite a while myself and there are a few routes you could take.

  1. The typical reason for the dead to stick around; unfinished business. This is more likely to be some kind of ghost or wraith than skeleton or zombie undead, but they can be good, bad or indifferent. Basically if a person dies with something so important left undone that it literally prevents there soul passing to the Otherworld they stick around as some sort of ghost.
  2. Some sort of rite is performed on them before they die, while they are dying or just afterwards. This rite binds their soul so it cannot leave and it is bound back to their now dead body. This is the basic realms of Necromancy and also gives justification for why they would serve the Necromancer; their souls are bound to his will.
  3. The undead are not animated by souls at all. They are just another form of golem or automaton. Skeletons or bodies are used because they are easier to animate than stone or metal (and come in human shape already) but they are not animated by the souls of the people they were in life, they are just driven by magic. This also explains why these sorts of undead are fairly stupid and mindless.
  4. The opposite of number 2, souls require some kind of rite to pass to the Otherworld. If the right prayer is not said at the funeral then the soul doesn't pass over and lingers in this world. This does mean that a lot of people are likely to turn undead; the murdered, those that die in battle or at sea, basically anyone who can't be given a proper funeral or who dies too far away from whoever can perform the correct rite.

The body doesn't always die when the soul departs

On rare occasions a soul departs the body before it dies. It could be that its life is complete, it is called to some other purpose or something so traumatic happens that the soul flees the body. Normally this is accompanied by a rapid decline in the body's health and then death. But on some occasions bodies survive, with only instincts and lower brain functions still controlling them.

The light's on, but there's nobody home

The uninhabited bodies are like zombies, but not quite. When hungry they will hunt something edible, when in pain they will flee or move to shelter. Without the lifeforce of the soul present, they start degenerating slowly even if they get enough food and avoid serious injuries. Unlike real zombies, they can bleed out or die of organ failure as they are still living in a biological sense.

A new tenant

As befits duality, souls also have an opposite, a kind of shadowy void that consumes all the things a soul lives for.

A recently abandoned body can be entered and possessed by these spirits. They provide not only a new drive and intellect, but also a replacement for the soul's life force that keeps the body vigorous. This usually involves some way to take life energy from other beings.

Depending on the nature of the spirit, you get a different kind of undead. Vampires, ghouls and the like obtain life energy from living blood and flesh, while the spirits that make mummies and skeletons drain life energy from their surroundings directly, so they can stay inactive for very long times.


What the mechanics of their Soul getting to the Otherworld?

Interfere with that. Examples:

1) The entity that takes them there or guides them there stops doing its job.

2) There are some people that die too soon, or are so in love with Life, or another living person, or so consumed by their responsibilities, they can't bring themselves to go to the Otherworld, as a consequence their Soul dies and they become evil and undead -- precisely the opposite of themselves in Life!

3) Certain kinds of death or actions result in souls being barred from the Otherworld; and they die. Death by suicide, rapists, murderers, and people that double dip their chips in the salsa.


The Ancient Egyptians believed that the soul consists of several parts. One part could be reborn, one or several other parts might remain to animate the body, under certain circumstances.


Undead creatures could be:

  • Creatures that were evil and have to prove themselves before being reborn
  • Creatures that have been cursed by dark magic to be undead (if there is dark magic in your story)
  • Something similar to a Lich or Vampire, a creature that has given up its soul to become an immortal, evil creature
  • Something similar to one of those ideas

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