Posted Wed, Feb 27, 2013 by gunky
Undead are usually encountered just after the adventuring group has gotten a little practice against the squishier low-level monsters. They are a new kind of challenge - they are immune to certain attacks, especially vulnerable to others, and often spread disease through their normal attacks, which can make their victims weaker. The presence of the walking dead is often an indicator of powerful evil magic nearby - a megalomaniacal Necromancer raising an army, a dark curse or terrible plague, or the radiations of some foul and ancient relic buried in some forgotten tomb. The Cleric is particularly suited for fighting undead - his holy magic causes them injury, and he has the unique ability to "Turn" undead, causing them to flee in panic or be destroyed.
The idea of vengeful undead has been a part of humanity likely since we started burying our dead in Paleolithic times. The different kinds of undead in D&D come from a variety of sources - for example, the wight seems to draw heavily from the draugr of Norse mythology, and the mindless, flesh-hungry zombie seems to come more from George A. Romero movies (though the concept has been around for much, much longer than that).
Undead are encountered almost immediately in Neverwinter, besieging the city during the tutorial missions. Cleaving your way through rattling waves of shambling skeletons is how you learn about movement, defense and attacks.