But Erin, why does this matter for a D&D or Pathfinder game? Once the NPCs are dead, they aren't important any more.
Wrong! This matters because small things in the background (often derided as "fluff") affect and shape the formation of larger cultural elements, which go on to affect the PCs through the shape of rituals, customs, traditions and mores of the game world. Also, how many dungeons expeditions turn into tomb robbing?
As previously mentioned, dwarves do not rot; instead, they petrify and eventually turn into solid stone. In game terms, this means a few things:
- Dwarf corpses never come out of rigor mortis. Dwarven priests use the Soften Earth and Stone spell to unlock the joints for dressing in finery and posing for eternal rest (necessary if the death is sudden and the body is splayed in an undignified manner).
- Dwarven tombs are difficult to rob of their wealth, because the treasure is likely to be in the shape of weapons and armor that are now bound to, or being held by, several hundred pounds of unmoving statue. Bring a spellcaster, or an adamantine hammer and chisel and a lot of patience.
- Given the elemental nature of Pellatarran undead, dwarves rarely rise as true undead as their bodies have become immobile and their natures apathetic. However, necromancers can still animate their freshly-slain corpses.
It is of utmost importance that the corpses of elves be kept from water, else they rise as fearsome undead. Admittedly, every corpse must be kept from water because it is the element of fear; it just seems especially prudent to keep the race linked to water from rising as a fear-based undead because that sounds like doubling up on trouble.
The problem is that elf corpses don't rot; they deliquesce, their flesh (and later, their bones) melting into liquid. This can be avoided if proper elven funerary practices are followed, but this isn't always possible in cases of accident, misadventure, crime (like murder, or a kidnapping gone wrong) or the evergreen "an elven adventurer dies in a dungeon." The good news is that this means elves who rise as physical undead don't stay that way for long. The bad news, though, is that this drastically increases the chances of them rising as incorporeal undead.
It is rumored that powerful necromancers can capture the essence of these elves by storing the juices of their former bodies in properly enchanted canopic jars, and that by sipping from them like potions, the knowledge and memories of the captured elf can be accessed by the imbiber. Of course, these stories also hasten to warn that this is an excellent way to become possessed by the spirit of the elf you're sipping...
Orc corpses don't rot; instead, they char from the inside-out. According to orc lore, once the soul is freed from its body, its passage sears its former flesh. The only way to tell if an orc died from a fire or by other means is to cut it open and see where the damage is greatest.
Given enough time, orc corpses will turn to ash and blow away. The orcish practice of cremation is largely seen as a way to speed this process along, as orcs have more important things to do than wait for bodies to ashify.
Much like elves, this means that orcs rarely rise as physical undead, but have a greater chance of becoming incorporeal undead. This ironic similarity is a source of irritation for both peoples, and mentioning it is a fantastic way to start a fight in either culture.
Despite what you may expect, dragon corpses do not evaporate into gas. That would be silly.
No, they just explode dramatically as their breath weapons seek to rejoin the air around them. (Air is breath, after all.) The size and power of the explosion is based on their age, so the corpse of a Great Red Wyrm will explode in a 24d10 fireball and be consumed by it.
This is one reason why other dragons will collapse a cave or mountain upon their dead. Another reason is "Not all breath weapons completely destroy the body, and undead dragons of any color are utterly terrifying."
Sometimes this explosion happens days, weeks, or even months after their deaths; sometimes it happens immediately. Even in death, dragons are inscrutable.
Other RacesNon-elder races, being creations of the Material Plane, just revert to the materials from which they were made through simple rotting.
What's that, you ask? What about the halflings?
Oh. Well, there's nothing to tell, really. Halfling communities don't have an undead problem. They're just such a radiant, positively energetic people that for some odd reason, they don't become undead unless there are unusual circumstances, like a necromancer or a powerful artifact.
You know, come to think of it, you've never seen a halfling graveyard. Odd, that.
(Go on. Think through the implications of this. If you aren't disturbed, you haven't thought it all the way through.)