Notable NPCs; Colonel Ulthar von Gheistler

Readers might recognize the description of Colonel Ulthar von Gheistler as fitting that curious band of powerful villains from the “Dragonlance” stories and the D&D gaming world of the same name, the fallen heroes known as “Death Knights.” In many ways these fellows can be loosely described as being Darth Vader-ish in both appearance and mannerisms; they possess powerful spell-like abilities, they wear dark armor and wield magical weapons, they are terrifying warriors that instill fear among everyone around them, and they are fanatically devoted to their cause. Unlike Darth Vader, however, Death Knights are undead, and unlike the most famous villain in cinematic history, they do not serve a higher power than their own selfish ambitions. But yes, Darth Vader is what springs to mind.

Colonel Ulthar von Gheistler is not, however, related to the Death Knights of Krynn (the world of the Dragonlance adventures). He is something of an anomaly. To explore how he came to be one must understand more about how it is that some undead happen to be in that state. And to know that, one must do a lot of reading. In the exploration of how liches are made we find one of the answers for how it is that Ulthar came to be undead. The most obvious way to become a lich is through foul and blasphemous spellcraft, initiated by a wizard in order to become more powerful and acquire more knowledge. A lesser known path is by a priest seeking further enlightenment, and through dark and forbidden arcane rituals pass into undeath in order to find it. But there is a third way, what one might call an accidental way, to achieving undeath along the lines of a lich. Accident. The Ravenloft setting has a terrific story about a bard that was accidently made into a lich. The bard’s alignment was unaffected, but his life certainly took a turn towards the unusual. Somebody so devoted to their duty that the ways and methods of the living faded into nothingness might also accidently find themselves driven into undeath by the sheer devotion of their activities. It was this sort of accident that created Colonel Ulthar von Gheistler as undead. His alignment and purpose did not waiver, but his life force certainly did.

Unlike the Dragonlance villains of the same name, the Death Knight known as Colonel Ulthar von Gheistler does not share all of their abilities. He is not surrounded by lesser undead, for instance, nor does he sulk endlessly in the guilt and shame that led him to his current state of existence. His drive to learn and become better at his job is what made him what he is, and that same devotion to duty is what feeds him now. He has no further need of rank and privilege. His salary is meaningless as he has neither room or board to consider. He does not sleep, tire, or get bored. Once given an assignment to carry out he does so without ceasing, and his staff has to struggle to keep pace in rotating shifts. His primary job is to oversee the military prison in Graefenstag in the southwestern corner of the Coreland. But on occasion he is tasked by his superiors to undertake particularly difficult or hazardous jobs that the Judicial Command might otherwise be unable to tackle on their own. Being dispatched to Romilmark to help quell the rumblings of rebellion against the new rulers of the land is one such task. There is no better person to root out a problem than somebody who never gets tired of looking.

So going forward with The Governor-General’s Oath it is perfectly acceptable to view Colonel Ulthar von Gheistler as Darth Vader-like. But he isn’t a villain, and nor is he ever going to become one. Being undead doesn’t make you evil. It is all in how you came to be undead that decides that.