Note: It is very important to distinguish between the Undead and the Unlife. Most Unlife are Undead, but not all Undead are Unlife. In particular, the spirits of the deceased are Undead, but they are not typically antimus based creatures, they are simply discoporeal. The distinguishing factor is that Unlife are by definition Undead who are antimus based.
A dhampyr is a living vampire. They are not that common, as they are extremely hard to create. Vampires and vampyrs cannot procreate like mortals. Vampires and vampyrs are, to all intents and purposes, dead. They have no pulse; blood travels through the body consciously via vascular contraction, not via the heart.
In order for vampires (or in theory vampyrs, but this would be very unlikely) to procreate, they need the assistance of powerful magics. They need both a necromancer and typically an incubus or succubus. Female vampires require a succubus to bear the child, and male vampires require an incubus to sire their offspring.
Dhampyrs are alive and they have both animus and antimus in their system (typically). They are the only known stable examples of antimus and animus coexisting in a living creature. Dhampyrs are typically not contagious; at least not in terms of creating dhampyrs. However, under some circumstances they can induce ghoulism.
Dhampyrs have no sensitivity to light. Dhampyrs can consume animus similar to a vampire; they have the same animus-processing capabilities as a vampire. A well-fed dhampyr is effectively immortal, similar to a vampire. Further, because they can process animus, but are not as dependent upon it for survival, they are often very powerful animus and mana users. Dhampyrs do not have to immediately consume all the animus they drink from a victim. They can store excess animus beyond what they need to survive (which is much less than a vampire); this allows them to attract and retain more mana than a normal mana wielder of the same skills and experience.
A ghast is a ghoul who has control of their ghoulism. Ghasts are typically individuals who have lived with ghoulism for a very long time and have come to be able to “manage” their condition. A ghast with proper access to fresh animus can live for quite some time, and even preserve their youth. Ghasts are typically very cunning and smart. Ghasts are ghouls and are thus Unlife and extremely contagious. When not feeding—and they can often go for some time between meals—a ghast appears to be a perfectly normal mortal and would only be detected by someone using Holy Sight or a similar ritual.
A ghoul is a living person whose animus has been polarized into antimus. This creates considerable issues in terms of binding antimus to an animus-optimized body. In order to survive, ghouls need to consume fresh animus on a regular basis. While the individual may be quite intelligent (or not—they are just people) they are often overwhelmed by a never-ending hunger for animus. Unfortunately, unlike a vampire, vampyr or dhampyr, ghouls have no specialized mechanism to consume animus; their only option is to consume living or very recently living flesh.
Vampires are perhaps the most well-known and feared of the Unlife. Vampires are extremely intelligent, often centuries old and extremely powerful on multiple fronts. They are extremely strong, have remarkable senses, are able to leap great distances and scale walls (and ceilings). Their ability to live for a very long time allows them to accumulate great wealth and power. As they age, many acquire different skill sets associated with being a vampire; such skills may include flight and shapeshifting capabilities.
Vampires are Unlife who consume animus by drinking the blood of a living creature (as do dhampyrs and vampyrs). They are contagious, but the nature of the contagion depends on the vampire’s actions. An individual completely drained of animus is simply dead. One who is drained almost to death, but then receives a fresh infusion of vampire blood, will become a vampire if they survive the process. A partially drained victim may contract ghoulism from the vampire. The chance of contagion depends on the amount of blood drained from the victim and the number of times the vampire feeds.
Vampires burst into flame when exposed to daylight. Vampires can be repelled by sufficiently powerful priests and occasionally a layperson; however, this does vary from god to god. Vampires do not recoil from mirrors, and while many MISTAKENLY believe that vampires are invisible in mirrors, this is not generally true (unless the vampire is a mana user).
Vampyrs are an alternate strain of vampire; one typically seen as being less efficient at consuming animus. Vampyrs typically (increasing with age) have very large mouths with extremely powerful jaws. Their mouths are filled with hundreds of flexible but sharp teeth, similar to a shark.
Vampyrs do not have the sophisticated fangs of vampires and dhampyrs, and simply swallow blood and flesh and process it in their belly. Many have compared vampires and vampyrs to ghasts and ghouls. Vampyrs tend to be much more consumed by their hunger than vampires; they certainly have less impulse control, and their eating habits can make even ghouls queasy.
In theory, old vampyrs develop additional skills similar to vampires. Such vampyrs are less common than vampires, simply due to the fact that vampyrs, unable to truly control their hunger and disguise their nature for long, are often located and put down before achieving advanced age.
In all other respects, vampires and vampyrs are essentially the same in terms of abilities and vulnerabilities.
A ghost is a spirit trapped on the aethereal plane. Upon death, the spirit leaves its body, but rather than ascend to an outer plane or flow back into the material realm, the spirit manages to enter the aethereal realm, where it can survive generally unmolested by the material world for as long as it desires.
A phantom is a ghost with the ability to appear visually on the material plane. While not physically present, a powerful phantom can appear completely normal and solid. However, they are insubstantial and unable to interact physically with the material plane.
A poltergeist is a ghost, or phantom, that can manipulate the material plane through sheer force of will. If the ghost is that of an animage, then it will be likely have some degree of kinetomastery and manipulate the physical world via this discipline. Other ghosts, over time, may naturally develop kinetomastery with sufficient practice.
Specters are actually quite rare. A specter is a ghost, typically a poltergeist, who can form an anima body on a material plane for a short period of time. This is analogous to the anima bodies typically used by avatars who do not fully incarnate. The duration for which the specter can maintain the anima body depends on the specter’s available mana. Unlike ascended (or descended) beings, specters do not have an anchor to the Outer Planes or the Abyss, and thus have much more difficulty in maintaining their anima bodies.
A wraith is the spirit of someone recently deceased that has not yet “moved on.” It is animus that still retains animatic cohesion, at least for some period of time. If a wraith can figure out how to possess their old body, they can come back as a drauger or revenant. If they can figure out how to get to the aethereal plane, they become a ghost. With luck, the wraith has made afterlife arrangements and can follow links to their promised afterlife.
Drauger are self-willed, self-animated zombies. They are mortals who have refused to die and vacate their mortal remains. They often possess magical abilities, which is typically what allows them to hold on to their remains. However, great trauma or magical events can also be the source of the attachment. The remains are, while animated, dead and decaying. Drauger will eventually decay away until nothing remains, short of magical intervention from an artifact or necromancer.
Drauger are NOT Unlife. They are not contagious and can operate at any time of day or night. Drauger were often very powerful heroes or villains in life; larger-than-life personalities that could not be extinguished or persuaded to move on.
Jiangshi are very intelligent zombie vampires. Jiangshi are Unlife, and as with vampires, they draw animus from their victims, consuming it to survive. While not common, jiangshi can operate in daylight, but they are typically a bit more sluggish and disoriented. Jiangshi are very stiff and somewhat ungainly. They typically hop in order to move. However, they can be very quick and often have strong hand-to-hand combat skills. They may be spellcasters as well.
Liches are necromancers who have essentially embalmed themselves and placed their vital organs in a phylactery, typically a sealed urn. This phylactery is where their primary animus resides. It is a very special form of anima jar. From this phylactery, the lich’s spirit animates its body. Liches are extremely powerful necromancers; they are very intelligent and dangerous. Liches are Unlife and consume animus, but they are not contagious. They can operate fine in daylight, although they prefer the night and the cold.
Liches preserve their flesh with very powerful cold spells. These preservation spells render them difficult to harm via cold or fire. Lightning does typically work, but is not as effective as one would expect.
Mummies are bandage-wrapped, embalmed corpses that are created by necromancers. They are most typically used as guards. The process of making a mummy is believed to be similar to that of creating a lich; however, liches create themselves, while mummies are created by liches and necromancers, often against the will of the deceased. As with a lich, a mummy’s animus is stored within its phylactery. If the mummy’s body is destroyed, eventually, given enough time, it will reassemble itself. This can, however, take a very long time. One must destroy the phylactery in order to end the curse that binds the deceased to the mortal realm.
Mummies are Unlife, but are not typically contagious—although they may have a number of parasites and other illnesses associated with them. Mummies have no issue with daylight, nor do they typically consume animus.
Revenants are essentially less powerful drauger. Revenants may come back on their own accord, or they may be created by necromancy or shamanism. Depending on how the revenant is created, it MAY be Unlife; however, not all are Unlife. Revenants are not contagious and typically do not consume animus, although some Unlife revenants can do so.
Skeletons at first glance seem to simply be animated bones. However, there are multiple ways to animate skeletons and this makes them tricky to deal with. Some are simply animated bones controlled by a necromancer, a curse, or some other spell. These are essentially puppets and their ability to think is limited by what the controller can see, do, and manipulate.
In some cases, what appears to be a skeleton is actually a revenant or drauger in very late stages of decay. These are often the most dangerous, because they really are not skeletons; they simply appear to be skeletons.
Skeletons are also popular tools of ghosts. A single skeleton is animated by a single ghost, so one is actually fighting a ghost that is using the bones as a tool. This is different from a necromancer or spell, because in those cases there will likely be multiple skeletons active. In theory, a very powerful ghost could manipulate multiple skeletons, but this is extremely rare.
Finally, what might appear to be a skeleton may actually be a severely decayed zombie. In this case, the skeleton is Unlife and may be contagious.
A wight is a ghoul zombie. If a ghoul under the influence or control of a necromancer dies, that necromancer may choose to bring the ghoul back from the dead as a zombie. These are particularly dangerous because they are contagious both as a ghoul and as a zombie. A victim who survives a wight attack may become either a ghoul, a zombie or a wight.
A zombie is, most commonly, someone who has been brought back from the dead improperly (depending on one’s perspective). From a clerical perspective, a zombie is a failed resurrection where the returning animus becomes accidentally polarized as antimus and thus imperfectly binds to the body.
Zombies typically have relatively low intelligence. However, there can be exceptions, particularly for fresh or powerful zombies. Truly powerful, well-fed, well-maintained zombies can be as intelligent as they were in life. The problem is simply that of brain decay; it muddles their thinking and other cognitive functions.
Zombies are usually Unlife and they are thus contagious. The distinction is similar to ghosts. What appears to be a zombie could simply be a body animated by a puppet master, or even a powerful ghost. In these cases, the zombie is not Unlife and is not contagious.
Zombies will eat any part of a mortal to consume animus, just like a ghoul. However, as has been widely reported, they particularly like brains. Brain tissue is a critical part of the zombie diet in order to keep cognitive thinking working properly. The more brains a zombie eats, the smarter they are.