Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Building the Bestiary #4: Undead

Undead are a staple of most fantasy role-playing games, so GMs of this genres are going to need some undead miniatures eventually. Even in a low-level game, the players can expect to meet weak undead like skeletons and zombies very early in their careers. Fortunately, the LEGO Group has released a good variety of these monsters over the years, and other kinds of D&D or Pathfinder undead can easily be built or approximated with other minifigures and parts.

Skeletons and Ghosts

The most readily available LEGO undead are skeletons and ghosts, which first appeared in Castle sets and have been featured in various forms in many other themes since then. Some version of these two monsters are almost always in production in one theme or another.

Skeletons, and droids as quadruped skeletons
Skeletons: Basic skeletons can be found in many Castle and Pirate sets, and occasionally in other themes, such as Pirates of the Caribbean. (Even Star Wars and Lord of the Rings sets have included skeletons, in the Rancor Pit and Mines of Moria, respectively.) The Ninjago theme introduced several skeleton characters with individual looks and personalities. More recently, the Minecraft theme offers its own variety of block-headed skeletons, and Minifigures Series 14; Monsters! included a normal guy in a skeleton costume.

Some sets have included skeletal horses, in both white and black, and the LEGO Cuusoo Research Institute included a brick-built dinosaur skeleton. The Ninjago LEGO game included skeleton microfigures, perfect for smaller reanimated corpses such as kobolds or goblins.

The skeleton of a dog, wolf, or similar-sized quadruped is easy to make: take a Star Wars soldier-droid, remove its weapon and backpack, and bend it down onto all fours (see the photo).

Peeves (Harry Potter) and classic ghost (Castle)
Ghost: The original "white sheet"-type ghost minifigure first appeared in the Castle theme, Modified versions of this classic form appeared in the Monster Fighters and LEGO Movie themes. New types of ghosts have appeared in Harry Potter (Peeves the poltergeist), Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (Army of the Dead and the Witch-King), Spongebob Squarepants (The Flying Dutchman), Ninjago (spirit warriors and tiny demonic ghosts), and Ghostbusters (Slimer and related ghosts). The Spectre and Banshee in Minifigures Series 14 use the transparent ectoplasmic lower body piece that first appeared in Ninjago. Dementors (Harry Potter) aren't technically ghosts, but can serve as such.
Example of a custom-built ghost

If you lack any of these ghostly characters, a skeleton head on a white body works well (as will other white heads such as Asajj Ventriss or the Minifigures geisha and mime). For the ghosts of creatures that are not Medium humanoids, build the model in a uniform white, light gray, or transparent colors to show that it's incorporeal.

Mummies, Vampires, and Zombies

The other types of undead that have appeared in LEGO form include mummies, vampires, and zombies.

Mummy: The first LEGO mummies appeared in the Adventurers and LEGO Studios sets. The Pharaoh's Quest theme included a variety of mummies--even winged ones! More recently, Monster Fighters and Minifigures Series 3 and 14 have each included a mummy. Mummy microfigures appeared in the LEGO Games Ramses Pyramid and Ramses Return.

Snape and  vampire
Vampire: Vampires have appeared in LEGO Studios, Monster Fighters (along with a Vampire Bride), and Minifigures Series 2. Monster Fighters also included humanoid Vampire Bats, reissued with a color change for Minifigures Series 8. The LEGO Heroica game Ilrion features a vampire microfigure and a brick-built vampire bat. The Spider Lady from Minifigures Series 14 is obviously a vampire as well, and pasty, black-clad Professor Snape (Harry Potter) makes a decent vampire as well.

Zombie: The first LEGO zombie appeared in Minifigures Series 1, followed soon after by some zombie crewmen in the Pirates of the Caribbean theme. The Monster Fighters theme offered additional zombies, and more recently, Minifigures Series 14; Monsters! included three new zombies (pirate, businessman, and cheerleader). There is also an alien Geonosian Zombie in the Star Wars theme,

Zombie crewmen (Pirates of the Caribbean)
If you don't own any LEGO zombies, look for minifigure body parts printed with torn clothing, cuts and bruises, and dirt and blood stains. The various Frankenstein's Monsters (Monster Fighters and Minifigures) would make good zombies, though you may wish to remove the brow/hair piece to denote that they are zombies, not flesh golems.

Other Undead

Fantasy RPGs include many more kinds of undead that haven't appeared in LEGO form. I will give a few suggestions here for how to build figures for them, but I'm limiting the list to those found in the D&D Monster Manual and first Pathfinder Bestiary.

Incorporeal Undead: Most incorporeal undead, such as spectres, can use the same suggestions above for ghosts. (See also the brick-built apparitions in the photo at the top of this column.)

For shadows, allips, and wraiths, you'll need a darker minifigure. A Ringwraith is an ideal choice here, but any all-black minifigure (preferably with little or no printing) will do nicely, as will a Dementor.

Custom-built devourer
Devourer: These undead are Large, so use the techniques discussed in the Giants installment of this series to modify a minifigure or build a new model. For the soul trapped in the monster's chest cavity, try to find a tile with a face or body on it, and attach it to the devourer with a SNOT ("studs not on top") brick. (The tile shown in the photo here is a specimen from an old Space set.) If you can build a microfigure into the creature's torso, that might be even creepier!

Ghoul: The best matches that I've found for ghouls are zombies and Gollum. The latter captures the ghoul's emaciated, hunched, predatory look quite well!

Lich: Minifigures such as the Witch-King (Hobbit) or Emperor Palpatine (Star Wars) can be used as-is for a lich. Lacking those, use a skeleton, zombie, or mummy, but give it sorcerer's robes, Pharaoh's regalia, or other suitably arcane and sinister gear to make it obvious that this is a much more dangerous foe.

Mohrg (modified skeleton)
Mohrg: Start with a skeleton minifigure. Use one of the L-shaped collars used to attach bricks to the back of a minifigure to attach a tendril or tentacle representing the monster's tongue attack, as shown in the photo. Alternately, attach the appendage to the stud on top of the skull, or to one of the hands.

Wight: A wight is similar to a zombie or mummy in that it's a corporeal husk of a body. Either of those monsters will do, but I prefer black minifigures with scary heads, such as Darth Maul (Star Wars), Lord Garmadon or the Stone Army (Ninjago). Garmadon has the added benefit of being bony without being a skeleton.

I may tackle additional undead monsters in future columns, but that's all for this installment. I hope these suggestions inspire your designs for your own games!

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