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Undead sprites preview.png

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. Animated dead are immortal and have no souls.

Almost all sprites of undead creatures will appear as completely dark blue with black spots around glowing white eyes. Many intelligent humanoid creatures will appear as they did when alive, albeit with an alternate, paler skin color. Some undead creatures will appear exactly the same as they were when alive.

What is an undead?[edit]

A drawing of a zombie and a dwarf by Zach Adams. All craftsdwarfship is of the highest quality. The dwarf is stabbing the zombie in the back. The zombie is smirking.

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.

While Dwarf Fortress has many kinds of creatures that are no longer performing the bodily functions of a living being (vampires, ghosts, mummies, intelligent undead, even necromancers to some degree), this article is focused on the mindless bodies, raised from death by the foul powers of individuals or evil lands, or enthralled by evil weather. Infected ghouls are similar to the common animated dead, but have their own article and a different tile color.

What different undead/immortal creatures' skin colors mean.

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. These are, however, predictably nonlethal, mostly serving as B-movie terror monster 'fodder' 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:

  • Unnatural strength and toughness. Strength increases to 130% and toughness to 300% + 1000 points on top - as the attributes scale from 0 to 5000, an above-average toughness of 1334 is enough for a zombie to reach the absolute cap of Toughness and pretty high, yet not absolute 3077 to reach the cap of Strength.
  • Speed is reduced to 60% of the living creature.
  • Unliving, sterile and opposed to life. Will be hostile to everything in the vicinity, other than fellow undead and inorganic aberrations that also have [NOT_LIVING] (iron men, bronze colossuses).
  • Mindless. Undead can no longer learn or forget, fixed to what skill levels they had in death. They are unaffected by fear, cannot feel emotions and keep going even if the brain is destroyed. Mischievous behavior and battle-trance capability are removed if present.
  • Magically sustained. Undead keep their attribute scores forever, do not age, and are beyond bodily worries such as pain, illness and exertion. Undead do not breathe, bleed, eat, drink nor sleep. Their limbs will continue to function even if the normally necessary ligaments have rotted away, and their extrasensory vision cannot be blinded.
Blue goblin as a dismal zombie.

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.

Unintelligent undead such as those created by a necromancer or raised by an evil biome have no concern for their own wellbeing. Such zombies will not attempt to dodge, block, or parry blows.

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[edit]

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. Similar entities called infected ghouls can be created by necromancers, which spread their form of the syndrome through their bites.

Because the interaction can happen without first killing the target, thrall-like creatures are hostile to one another and 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.


Illustration of Undead legions

The undead are not to be trifled with – they have high Strength and very high Toughness, along with all other physical attributes increased (except Speed), 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 in that they often arrive in very large numbers, using armor and weapons which make them even more powerful, and 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 trouble.

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 obviously 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 decapitation[Verify].

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. Crossbow bolts and other ranged weapons are essentially useless against undead of even moderate size, even if they can theoretically kill them if one of the previously mentioned important body-parts is destroyed by the shot. Against particularly small enemies like a kea or raccoon, bolts and arrows can be capable of severing limbs and ultimately finishing the job - but against anything more substantial like your average goblin, a squad of marksdwarves can spend multiple years, and quiver after quiver of ammunition, before ever dealing a lethal blow. This can be useful for rapidly training marksdwarves with a small number of targets, but may be undesirable if you're making a last stand, or had intended to thin the horde before the melee started.

Undead from necromancer sieges may carry equipment, including weaponry and armor. While such undead will neither block nor parry, they are perfectly capable of using their weapons to inflict damage upon your dwarves, and the armor they carry makes them much more difficult to put down. Against an armored zombie, hammers will be more effective than maces, as they have higher armor penetration while still inflicting blunt damage.

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, and magma, that traditional solution to all dwarven problems, is another effective weapon, as is fire in general - the sheer heat of the magma will eventually destroy the corpse, rendering it unable to rise again - it kills zombies fairly slowly, though. As unintelligent undead do not make any attempt to avoid attacks, they are particularly susceptible to even low-quality weapon traps. This property can be exploited in trap design, as no-quality weapon traps will still be lethal to the undead hordes, while typically allowing the horde's masters to leap out of the way, potentially somewhere nice.

Discipline is a big obstacle to directly confronting a zombie horde - without enough discipline, a troop sent to fight them may instead simply 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 to rapidly train marksdwarves, or 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[edit]

  • Undead can animate from hauled corpses.
  • Animated undead will not attack necromancers (including those not responsible for raising them), as they are considered non-living beings. They are also loyal towards other undead creatures like vampires or mummies.
  • Undead will not attack inorganic/elemental creatures, such as gabbro men and bronze colossuses. This is because these creatures are also treated as 'non-living', despite the fact they are not undead.
  • 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-tile thick moats.
  • Hostile undead that aren't a part of a siege will register as "outcasts" upon retiring a fort.


  • 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.
  • Bone stacks obtained from the severed limbs of undead sentient creatures are useable in crafting even though bones stacks rotted from the limbs of the living are off-limits.
  • Undead echidna, echidna man, giant echidna, hedgehog, giant hedgehog and hedgehog man can be at the same time curled up (and therefore impossible to destroy), moving and attacking. Modding may be used as a workaround.Bug:11463Bug:10519.
  • Dwarves fail to bury remains of reanimated corpses.Bug:10396
Body, Decomposed. Wrath, Active.
Art by DioMahesa
"Undead" in other Languages Books-aj.svg aj ashton 01.svg
Dwarven: nasnökor
Elvish: senoanaÿa
Goblin: rotûstru
Human: obmuthro