Living as The Dead
The Dead is the most difficult faction to get started, especially for newer players, and when the AI plays as The Dead, you will almost never see them above last place in the standings. Still, it has some unique abilities and spells that can be quite effective — once you get past some initial hurdles.
You may be asking, “every faction has differences, what is so special about The Dead?” The difference is that the other factions don’t have a basic aspect of the game taken away from their cities, like The Dead faction does. Let’s take a look at the faction’s differences first, and then get into the gameplay and strategy during a Dead game.
The Dead Faction
Cities for The Dead have the biggest challenge to overcome: since your people are all undead, your cities can’t use food or food resources, which means that they don’t normally grow in population at all. Getting your cities to actually start growing will be the most important part of the early game, and it takes significant effort. How to actually do that will be discussed later, in the strategy section.
City locations will need good production and essence numbers — food numbers (and food resources) are completely useless and can be ignored. You’ll need one essence in every city for the spell Morrigan’s Call, so think of locations as having one less essence available for city spells than normal. You could theoretically build a conclave with no essence, and then select to add an essence at level 3, or build a town with no essence and select to add +3 growth at city level 3. However, it is nearly impossible to get the population needed to get to city level 3 without Morrigan’s Call.
This essence requirement doesn’t just apply to new cities. Once you get to the point of capturing rival cities, it is usually best to raze any without it. Razing will often reveal a nearby location that does have essence for you to build a new city. If not, consider blocking the area from other factions by building an outpost or two, the AI is quite willing to plop down a city smack in the middle of your existing ones.
With no need for food, you may think that all of your cities will be conclaves and fortresses, however don’t ignore towns. Towns still help The Dead; they have money and city level up bonuses, like the city level 3 bonus that adds +5% HP to all of your units.
With no access to food, you have no access to the primary way other factions grow their populations. But, any other ways to add growth still work, and you have the spell Morrigan’s Call.
- Morrigan’s Call. This will be your bread and butter for growth. If you only take one thing away from this guide, it is to use Morrigan’s Call in all of your cities. This spell adds one growth to your city per death shard. Early game, when you only have one or two death shards, the other factions will likely be out-growing you, but at least you won’t be stagnant. Late game, with a bunch of shards, you’ll often be out-growing them.
- Killing human, fallen, or undead enemies. You get one population in the nearest city for every individual killed (a single unit with 3 members grants 3 population). Animals, monsters, and twisted humanoids (like darklings, trolls, and ogres) do not work. However, whether it works or not is based on the leader of the army, so a wolf in a wolf army doesn’t give you population, but a wolf in a bandit army does. This is a nice little bonus, and can sometimes quickly grow a frontier city, but it can’t be relied upon.
- Consulates in outposts. Upgrading an outpost to have a consulate will add one growth to the attached city. Research “Economics” in the civilization tree to unlock consulates.
- Tower of Domination. Just like other factions, this will give a small boost (+1 growth) to one city, usually your capital.
- Sovereign’s Call. This will add +2 growth to a city for 25 mana (and an open essence slot). It requires a hero with the life apprentice skill, so you are unlikely to see it unless/until you get a kingdom sovereign to surrender.
In the same way that other factions have caps to their population based on food, you have population caps based on “graves”. Each new (or captured) city starts with 50 graves, exactly the number needed to get to city level 2, where you select conclave, town, or fortress. Three buildings, unique to The Dead, raise the number of graves in a city. Each gives you enough for the next city level plus a little extra buffer. The first building, the mausoleum, is available from the start, the other two are researched in the civilization tree.
- Mausoleum: +120 graves (170 total), enough for city level 3
- Catacomb: unlocked with “Construction”, +130 graves (300 total), enough for city level 4
- Necropolis: unlocked with “Guilds”, +350 graves (650 total), enough for city level 5
Being undead, your units have some unique traits and abilities.
- Maintenance. You pay no unit wages. This applies to all of your heroes and units, including non-Dead hired units, like ogres. If you can spare the production and population, you are free to spam out as many units as you want.
- Poison. All of your Dead units are immune to poison. However, this does not apply to non-Dead heroes/units (unless they were already immune for some other reason). Also note that rock spiders spit acid, not poison, so they will affect you (although that is one of the weaker DOTs).
- Critical hits. Your Dead units can’t be the victim of a critical hit, but they can critically hit others. This appears to also apply to non-Dead heroes/units, but isn’t 100% verified.
- Initiative penalty. Dead units have -2 initiative. This is attached to the Dead “race”, so your non-Dead heroes/units are fine. Fortunately, this is not a huge malus.
- Terror. Dead units can cause an adjacent enemy to skip their next turn if they fail to resist. Since it only potentially works for one turn, and your unit uses its turn to attempt it, it is always a gamble. However, if you have units to spare, or you expect a big attack from a particular enemy, it can be a great option. Terror has a five turn cooldown.
- Fear. The tooltip says that Dead units are immune to fear, this is not true! Perhaps it was changed in a patch, but the tooltip wasn’t updated. Regardless, Dead armies have been seen cowering in fear while a dragon ate them one by one.
- Undead horses. These look really cool, but are only cosmetic, they have the same stats as normal, living horses. If only they had undead wargs too….
Dead units have two unit traits not available to other factions.
- Undying curse. This is the trait that butchermen and some demons have, which increases your maximum group size by one when scoring a killing blow. A hugely powerful ability early to mid game, after a few battles, you’ll have groups of 6 with your rivals stuck with groups of 3 or 4. Later, when you can “naturally” make large groups, it is probably better to replace it with some other trait.
- Spirit. Units with the spirit trait take half damage from physical attacks (which most enemies use) for a small cost to labor. This is one of the most powerful traits available to any units. Make your custom units “female” to make them a spirit (“male” makes them a skeleton). Unless you really need three traits, you’ll probably want an all spirit army. Non-combat units, like scouts, can be made skeletons for a small discount over the spirit versions (ironically, scouts and pioneers are the only premade spirit units). One potential downside: spirit units do the ghost “shriek” noise when they attack (or are part of a pack attack). It’s not too bad at first, but some people could find it grating to the ears after a while.
In addition to the non-Dead unit abilities above, heroes have additional abilities and spells.
- Elegy. A spell that does damage to all enemies adjacent to your hero. It costs 30 mana and does 3 damage per level of your hero. It’s pretty effective, although somewhat expensive, especially early game.
- Feed. Likely to be the primary way you will heal your heroes. For 4 mana, it does 3 damage to an adjacent ally and heals your hero for 12. 3 damage is hardly noticeable in most squads, but the 12 heal to a hero is noticeable. You can also have two heroes feed from each other back and forth to heal both.
- Morrigan’s Call. The spell that lets your cities grow. Your heroes automatically learn it as well.
- Haunted Army. This strategic spell summons a small army of level 3 skeletons (4 units with 3 skeletons each) that last for three seasons. It costs 90 mana, so it’s expensive early game, but can get you out of a panic situation. Mid to late game a dozen level 3 skeletons aren’t very effective, making this spell mostly useless later on.
Your sovereign, whether Morrigan the Risen or a custom sovereign, is both a Dead unit and a hero, so they get all of the unit and hero abilities and traits (except for undying curse). This does include the spirit trait for custom female sovereigns. Sovereigns are not built, so the labor cost is ignored, they don’t have a three trait limit like units do, and “female” has no cost in the points used to design your sovereign. So there is no reason not to make your custom sovereign a spirit, taking half damage from physical attacks, especially if they are melee focused. Morrigan does come with a trinket that adds defense and curses melee attackers, and can be traded to one of your heroes (probably best to go to a melee hero). However, there is nothing stopping you from making a female sovereign with the same trinket, getting the best of both worlds.
You used to be able to give your custom sovereign life magic, giving weird synergies, or remove Morrigan’s special spells. There are some early guides online that mention these oddities, but they were patched out quite some time ago.
Most things you want to do as The Dead are the same as other factions. But, there are some key things you’ll want to have on your mind, especially early on.
Your First City
You’ll need to get your first city built as soon as possible, just like any other faction. However, it is crucial to have one or more essence in your city. It’s not very common, but you can get a start with no essence nearby. If you can’t find a good spot within the first 2 or 3 turns, it’s probably best to abandon the game and start a new one.
Get ready for Morrigan’s Call
Once you have your first city, your immediate concern will be getting the requirements for Morrigan’s Call. You’ll already have the essence it needs, and that will also be a concern for your other cities going forward. It costs 90 mana, so it will be a little while until you have built up enough. Temporarily casting meditate in your city will help. The last thing is connecting a death shard. You’ll need to research “Shard Harvesting” in the magic tech tree, but it doesn’t have to be the first thing you research. You’ll often have time for another tech or two before you even find a death shard.
Find a death shard
If there is a death shard in range of your first city, great! If not, scout around until you find one. Use your sovereign, build a scout or two and get looking. If you are using Morrigan the Risen, buff your starting army with a shadow warg. If you can’t find a shard within 20 or 30 turns (or however many you think is appropriate) it may be time to abandon the game and restart a new one, you are just getting farther and farther behind the other factions.
Build and protect your first pioneer
Once you’ve found a death shard, get a pioneer out there to build a city or outpost and claim it as soon as possible. Be careful with your pioneer though! Your city starts with 30 population and a pioneer costs 30 population to build. So, if a bandit kills it on the way to hook up a shard, you will most likely never recover and should probably quit the game and restart. Also, be aware that scouts (and other size three military units) cost three population to build, so if you can’t build a pioneer, it’s probably from building a scout first and going under 30 population. If that happens, get the tower of domination built ASAP. Or, if you build the tower of domination before the scout, the population will already be recovering while the scout is being built.
Once you have a death shard connected you can breathe a little easier. You are still well behind all the other factions, but at least you aren’t facing instant lose conditions anymore. Your main focus now is playing defensively and building up your power base. At some point, the AI players are going to start trying to bully you, feel free to tell them “no”. They might declare war on you, but if they even send soldiers at all, no early troops will be able to stand up to undying curse and/or spirit units.
- Haunted army can be used in an emergency, just remember that it costs 90 mana for only short-term help.
- Whenever you notice your mana is over 90 (or a little more if you want to keep a buffer), check if you have any cities that need Morrigan’s Call.
- Keep an eye out for death shards. Each one you hook up adds growth to all of your cities, in addition to the normal effects.
- When you find strategically important city spots, build cities in the locations with essence and use outposts to block the locations without any.
- Research “Construction” in the civilization tree for the building to let your cities get to level 4.
Once you’ve gotten your strength up a little, it’s time to go on the offensive. The next time a nearby faction declares war on you, take a city or two. It appears that razing cities (like the non-essence ones) makes the AI more eager to ask for peace, although this may just be conjecture. Do this two or three times, you’ll get out of last place in the standings, and they will stop trying to bully you. Now, you are more or less playing a “normal” game and can start working toward whichever victory condition you want. There are still a few things to keep in mind while doing so though.
- Researching “Guilds” in the civilization tree will give you the building to let you get your cities to maximum level.
- Researching “Economics” in the civilization tree will let you build consulates in your outposts, adding another point of growth. One option, especially if you haven’t found many death shards, is to build “extra” outposts with consulates next to all of your cities.
- Once you can build larger groups, you can start phasing out undying curse for other traits.
The Dead is probably the hardest faction to start off with, but most of the difficulty is stacked in the early game. You may have noticed that in the “First City” section, there are three different things that warrant a, “you should probably quit and restart if this happens.” This makes them hard to learn, and especially brutal to newer players. However, The Dead faction has some unique and powerful abilities that can let them claw their way up and win the game. You just need to survive long enough to use them.
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