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Revision as of 23:22, 15 February 2020 by Benderdragon (talk | contribs) (Added reason why hammers are better than maces.)
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This article is about the current version of DF.
Body, decomposed. Wrath, active.

The animated dead (or undead) Ñ are the bodies of formerly living creatures animated through fell magic. These night creatures can be created intentionally by a necromancer, a mummy or arise naturally from the dark energies of evil regions.

What is an undead?

A zombie being stabbed in the back. Drawn by Zach Adams.

An undead may be formed of either the rotting husk or the bones and shell of a being. The former is considered a zombie, and the latter a skeleton. Although vampires are no longer performing the bodily functions of a living being, they are not considered the "animated dead", this term being reserved for a corpse which has begun to move and act on its own or by the will of another, but lacking any form of intelligence beyond a primitive urge to hunt and kill any living thing it can find. Where zombies and skeletons cannot think or behave in any sophisticated manner beyond "kill everything", vampires are willful beings, generally indistinguishable from living persons (and capable of great deception to ensure that nobody learns about their condition). Ghosts are called undead in-game, but they are also not considered animated dead (as they lack a corporeal form).

As long as the remains of a creature contain a body part capable of grasping, be it a hand or head or the entire upper half, those remains can be animated. This can lead to animated hands and heads, which seems comical until you consider the implications of a swarm of such monstrosities and the havoc that they might wreak. Even some parts of creatures which should be incapable of autonomous movement can be raised, such as the hair or skin or even mussel shells. They are, however, predictably nonlethal, mostly serving as a B-movie terror monster to scare your dwarves into running around. A body part can be resurrected as a zombie even if it has already done so and been de-animated again. However, pulping damage (that is, "exploding into gore", "cloven asunder", "torn into shreds" and so on) to the head, neck, lower body, or upper body will turn the corpse into a "mangled corpse", ensuring that the zombie cannot rise up again. Likewise, destroying the structural integrity of an animate bodypart will stop its reanimation.


Upon animation, an undead gains a syndrome that fundamentally changes its physical characteristics and behaviour. Some of the traits they generally possess are:

  • Somewhat increased strength and toughness and reduced speed. (Before 0.42.05, this bonus was much higher).
  • Opposition to life, will be hostile to any non-undead and non-inorganic creatures in their vicinity.
  • Lack of emotion, pain, thought, or need for sustenance or breath.
  • Undead status ([NOT_LIVING]), sterility, and fixed skill and attribute values (with no rust or gain).

Undead retain the wounds that killed them in life, as well as any they have sustained since or from a temporary de-animation. Undead vary in levels of strength depending on their form. Certain types of animal are likely the most dangerous undead that it is common to encounter, and can have dangerous strength, speed, aggression, and piercing attacks. The undead of butcherable creatures can still be butchered once de-animated, as long as they have not rotted; doing so will prevent them from re-animating again, though their untanned skin and hair can potentially become undead. Reanimated skin and hair are easy to kill but will often frighten civilians; surrounding a butcher's shop with cage traps will help alleviate the problem. In addition, undead appear to retain the trading value of the original animal.

Larger undead who were building destroyers in life can still destroy buildings, though undead with special attacks like webbing will not be able to use them (zombie dragons, however, still use their breath). Undead thieves can still pick locks, but will not path to a locked door unless in pursuit of the living. If found underground, undead will usually path into a fort if they can. Aquatic creatures rendered undead are able to path through land, even if their living counterparts are unable to do so.

Undead from necromancer towers are reported to carry armor and weapons, giving the terror of the announcement "The dead walk! Hide while you can!" far more weight than before.

Thralls, Husks, and Zombies

Certain kinds of evil weather can instantly turn any syndrome-vulnerable creature into a bloodthirsty undead killer, opposed to all life. These creatures are referred to by the sort of weather that transformed them, an identifier as a thrall, husk, or zombie, and their original creature name—for example, a stray guineahen unholy gloom husk. The specific procedurally generated syndromes of thralling evil clouds are functionally identical to that of animate dead, with the same extreme gains in physical stats, lack of pain or breath, etc.

Because the interaction can happen without first killing the target, thrall-like creatures retain any armor or weapons they were carrying. Perhaps worst of all, they may still be contaminated with the material leading to the transformation, "infecting" those with whom they wrestle in a chain reaction that can rapidly destroy a fortress if they are not stopped immediately.


In the past, the undead were considered perhaps the greatest threat a fortress could ever face, only rivaled by the inhabitants of the hidden fun stuff. However, since the balance changes of 0.42.05, any battle against them will be much more fair. That said, the undead are not to be trifled with - they do not tire, feel no pain, have no useful articulations to damage, ignore injuries to their now-useless organs, do not fall unconscious, and are impervious to the effects of morale. Add to that that they often arrive in big numbers with necromancers to reanimate them, and that the greatest of beasts can be reanimated, and it comes off as no surprise that the undead can pose a great opportunity for fun.

As a rule, an individual dwarven undead should best an untrained living dwarf, but be relatively easily dispatched by an armed member of the militia. Physically larger undead are greater threats than their smaller brethren, and no undead army should be faced without a prepared militia.

The undead cannot bleed out. Puncture wounds do little good for this reason, and likewise, choking is ineffective against their lack of breath. Pulping or severing ("flies/sails off in an arc!" etc.) an important structural body-part (head, neck, upper body, lower body) is guaranteed to kill an undead. Blunt weapons are effective against animated corpses because they inflict pulping damage, mangling the zombies so badly that they cannot rise up again, without severing body parts that might reanimate. Of those commonly available to dwarves, maces are more efficient at pulping than war hammers. Flails are better still if one can acquire them. Beheading appears to sometimes work less reliably - this is possibly related to the neck being cut off rather than the head itself, which the game does not register as decapitationVerify. Crossbow bolts can kill the undead if one of the previously mentioned important body-parts is destroyed by the shot, but as shots cannot aim at specific organs, this method often relies on chance. Cutting apart the physical form of undead can be dangerous if the source of reanimation is still active and present. The more body parts are about, the more fodder for animation is present. In this case, it is wisest to either butcher the corpses (if they can be butchered), throw them into magma, or pulverize them with a drawbridge, which will destroy the bodies so thoroughly that they cannot be reanimated again. A thrall may be "safely" fought with cutting weapons however, as long as there is no risk of infection at hand. Undead animals can be disposed of by cage-trapping them and trading them away to passing merchants.

Undead from necromancer sieges may carry equipment, which increases their combat abilities. The undead cannot block nor parry, though, so they cannot make full use of it. In this case, hammers are better than maces because hammers are better at piercing armor.

Evil weather thralls may require utmost caution. Any thrall carrying a melee weapon or armour (let alone any combat skills of its own, which it will retain the use of) can dispatch a full squad in short order even with average combat skills, making direct confrontation an unwise choice- Armok help you if the thrall in question used to be one of your best soldiers. A particularly dire possibility is that, if the responsible evil cloud is in dust form, the thrall is still contaminated with whatever substance transformed it. If this is the case, any dwarves sent to fight the thrall will become thralls themselves if the thrall tries to wrestle them. From there, the new thralls might spread the contaminant further still, which can easily lead to a full-fledged zombie apocalypse.

Of course, the undead do not have to be beaten through direct combat. Traps and atom smashers are among the many indirect ways to neutralize them. Magma, that classic solution to all dwarven problems, is another effective weapon, as is fire in general. The sheer heat of magma will eventually destroy the corpse, rendering it unable to rise again. Magma kills zombies fairly slowly though.

Discipline is a big obstacle to directly confronting a zombie horde. Without enough discipline, a troop sent to fight them may instead decide to flee in terror from such abominations of nature. As you may imagine, this can lead to endless amounts of Fun, for unlike your dwarves, the undead cannot feel fear or any other emotion, and any dead dwarves may in turn rise up and add to the horde's numbers. It is important that any undead-fighting squad consists of severely hardened and disciplined soldiers. Any soldiers you bring to embark on an evil biome should have at least two points in discipline, as morale is currently buggy and leads to ordinary dwarves fleeing even from living wildlifeBug:7161. This may also be worked around with a little modding, by adding at least [NATURAL_SKILL:DISCIPLINE:1] to all civilised races and trainable pets. Additionally, the very act of fighting undead makes dwarves more vulnerable to insanity (particularly if the undead was acquainted with the dwarf fighting it in its former life), which must be countered with as many sources of good thoughts as possible.

Reports have been made of zombies animated by the ambient evil of a region deanimating on their own when wandering away from such a vile place. However, there are also reports of undead wildlife being encountered in areas bordering such places.Verify


Undead caught in cage traps can be used for fortress defense and executions if you are able to recapture them afterwards. They are hostile to every living creature, including siegers, megabeasts, forgotten beasts, hippies, snatchers, annoying residents, and cavern inhabitants. Build a cunning trap involving caged undead elephants, and release them upon an unsuspecting victim! Zombie elephant insurance not included.

Undead Fun Facts

  • Undead can animate from hauled corpses.
  • Undead will not attack necromancers or other undead like vampires or mummies.
  • Undead will not attack inorganic enemies like the bronze colossus.
  • Undead risen from starved animals in cages are not caged.
  • Undead attack all organic megabeasts as well as invaders, except necromancers (as their sorcery allows them to control undead easily).
  • Creatures capable of evading traps or bypassing locked doors retain that ability as undead.
  • Enthralled dwarves from your fortress are not affected by traps that were known to them in life.
  • Undead animals, even their animated body parts, retain their original animal value and can be traded to merchants for extra profit.
  • Dwarves who like an animal will also enjoy that undead animal.
  • Enthralled dwarves in a fortress which is retired or abandoned can appear as part of a migrant wave, causing lots of Fun.
  • With the addition of jumping, they can jump over 2 thick moats.


  • Dwarves will never report someone who was reanimated before their body was discovered as dead, even if the corpse is gnawing on their ear.
  • Animated creatures can somehow become stuck in mid-air, and will not move at all, even if killed. Spatters of blood from the animated party also float in this manner. This has been known to occur in cases ranging from a deer's animated head to a goblin's partial skeleton.
"Undead" in other Languages Books-aj.svg aj ashton 01.svg
Dwarven: nasnökor
Elvish: senoanaÿa
Goblin: rotûstru
Human: obmuthro