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Undead in the party and game balance


Advice


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I'm currently playing a Wizard in an evil campaign in my Pathfinder group. Originally I was specializing in creating an Undead army, but we quickly realized that the ability to control undead by a party member is completely unbalanced. The ability to control four times your HD in undead is just insane. Consider that with Desecrate you can effectively have a single undead with four times the HD of each person in the party.

A great example came up in our last session. We killed a Marsh Giant with the Advanced template (so +4 to all stats) and 14 HD. What do you know, we're level 7, so I can animate it. Now I have a 14 HD undead giant in the party. It's attack bonus is almost a solid 50% higher than our main warrior-class character, not to mention the damage output, plus the fact that it will still benefit from party buff spells that aren't mental in nature (love those hasted undead giants). On top of this, it only takes up half my max HD I can control. So if we find another one I could control two of these beasts. Then there are feats that can increase the max HD you can control, plus Desecrate, which doubles the HD you can animate.

I guess my question is, how are other people balancing the ability for PCs to create and control undead in their campaigns? I haven't even touched on undead variants, which adds even more flexibility and power to the arsenal. On the NPC side each undead counts towards the encounter CR and is thus included in the encounter strength, but on the PC side they're basically free extra party members that you can replace even more easily than a PC. Oh, and those extra low-level enchanted weapons and armor found in loot that aren't worth a whole lot normally? My undead army just got stronger, plus the ability to overcome some DRs.


You're right, it's completely unbalanced. In one campaign I'm playing, the Undead Lord has two zombie dragons, that do 200+ damage per round, have fast healing, hundreds of HP, and come back alive even if knocked out. Whenever we are going to face a marginally difficult enemy, the Undead Lord decides "we can't risk going into the room" and just sends in the undead to take care of everything. It really sucks the fun out of the game.

Lantern Lodge

Its fine because they dont level. Those undead u obtain will never level. The use of the undead for a cleric / wizard / sorcerer is to give them a few bodyguards. Its not ur fault that the party ur in cant dish out the goods, also not ur fault that ur gm gave that to u. After all the golden rule of D&D is "keep what u kill."

Dedicated Voter 2013

While it requires a houserule, all undead in our campaigns, even basic animated dead, have some semblance of 'self' still existing. Like golems, sometimes undead break free from a necromancers control and may attack the party or the necromancer himself. When control is maintained, yes, big HD undead can be an overwhelming boon in an encounter, however, knowing that at any time this control can be lost, makes doing so very, very dangerous. Because of this our party necromancers tend to control quantities of lower HD undead, rather than all powerful big HD undead. It's easier to destroy a lower level undead that you've lost control over than one that has twice the HD of any party member.

This is definitely not RAW, so it cannot be included unless your GM wills it so.


If you do use your undead, do it sparingly and take into account the other players' enjoyment. In fact, I'd say you should default to not using the undead, and letting your party members be the ones to suggest whether or not to use the undead for any particular encounter. I'm just saying this because in my campaign, it's always "the undead open the door", "the undead go scout out the room", "we send in the undead to fight the golem" and the players get to do nothing. When I try to open a door with my character, the Undead Lord says "No! The skeletons go first." I realize this is a problem with the player and not necessarily with the undead, but... be cautious. You do not want to be That Guy.


Some great feedback already, thanks!

@Psion-Psycho: Individual undead may not level, but you can always create a new, higher HD undead from a new corpse at a higher level and ditch the old ones that are no longer as useful. Them not leveling becomes a moot point.

@gamer-printer: I like this idea. I'll bring it up with our GM and see if it makes sense in our campaign. That may help mitigate the problem of higher HD undead.

@RumpinRufus: I've had this thought myself, but I'm not sure if it fully fixes the problem. I offered to use the Marsh Giant as a sort of mount by building a carrier on its shoulders for me to ride in. This would keep me out of melee range (except in dungeons with low ceilings), provide some good flavor for my character, and prevent the giant from taking over combat. The problem is that it's still THERE. Combat going poorly? Send in the giant! Need to get through a tough door? Giant, bash it down! Right now I think this may be the best solution, let the party handle a given situation first, use my undead as a backup and for personal protection.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Haven't encountered it in any of my games yet. My initial response, give the other characters a chance to shine, and maybe talk to the DM about it.

Remember, the skeleton has to go everywhere with you. People will notice and plan accordingly. It is a very powerful, giant skeleton after all. A few casks of holy water could do a lot. Also, there are places where it just cannot go.


Psion-Psycho wrote:
Its not ur fault that the party ur in cant dish out the goods,

They're 7HD characters and you're saying it's a failing on their part that they deal less damage than the 14HD undead?


bobthe wrote:
@RumpinRufus: I've had this thought myself, but I'm not sure if it fully fixes the problem. I offered to use the Marsh Giant as a sort of mount by building a carrier on its shoulders for me to ride in. This would keep me out of melee range (except in dungeons with low ceilings), provide some good flavor for my character, and prevent the giant from taking over combat. The problem is that it's still THERE. Combat going poorly? Send in the giant! Need to get through a tough door? Giant, bash it down! Right now I think this may be the best solution, let the party handle a given situation first, use my undead as a backup and for personal protection.

Sounds like you're playing it well to me. As long as it's the last resort and not the first resort, it shouldn't step too much on everyone else's toes. The problem in our game is that the PCs hardly do anything because this player's first response to every problem is "have the undead do it."


I find in my campaigns that undead are dealt with easily since they can't generally think for themselves and can only take simple commands it's easy to trap them with like wall spells etc.

Star Voter 2013

The one time I played a necromancer in pf my skellies and zombies seemed to die rather quickly. They could dish out damage nicely, but if you are changing all their AC and HPs properly, they should basically be glass cannons.

We were also in a very gold light game, so many times I didn't even want to raise something because I didn't think it worth the onyx to have what amounted to a precast summon monster spell.

Also remember that any levels the creature had are lost when raised.

Star Voter 2013

Well it all sounds well and good until you face a evil cleric or necromancer.

Oh, look you can control undead - so can I, and watch the party get scared as the NPC wins the opposed check, takes control of the undead and have it pound the wizard and then the rest of the party into pulp.

Lol, I've been there.

Scarab Sages

Opposing clerics and paladins might not be so happy to have such a beast running about too, and if its that overpowering a mini-crusade by some holy order probably wouldn't be too out of line.

Towns people are a superstitious lot, and might not want to sell your party goods or services.... the nervous shopkeeper eyes you uncertainly, and mumbles quietly "Its not you milord, its that...companion you have. Right evil it is, keeping such an evil creation like that. Me great great granmama was killed when something very like that came thru these parts. Unholy it is, and I sha'nt dishonor her memory by helping someone that keeps host with such. I'm very sorry, milord."

Even assuming you are never around other townspeople or small cities or such, and are just farting around in the wilderness, creatures would be very cognizant of such a creature being there. Hunting would be difficult. Predators/scavengers would be interested in the carrion/deathly smell. Bugs. (swarms of vermin, coming to feast on the semi-fleshy bits). Etc. It would be a real PITA.

Assuming you are in some dungeon somewhere, unless it too was built by giants, keeping such a beastie around (giant, amirite?) would be a challenge...every door is too small, it has to hunch over, getting around it would be a problem, see the rules for fighting in difficult terrain, ooops my pet got stuck in the crawlspace o drat now what?, etc.

Undead minions are tools, and should be nothing more. Just like I don't interact with the wrench when I take my car in to get fixed, nor should I interact with the undead minion.


Sitri wrote:
The one time I played a necromancer in pf my skellies and zombies seemed to die rather quickly. They could dish out damage nicely, but if you are changing all their AC and HPs properly, they should basically be glass cannons.

That's a good point, the giant's HP are lower than they were when it was alive. Charisma getting dropped to 10 removes all bonus HP (and overrides the +4 the base creature got from being Advanced). So yet, it is a glass cannon, but let's say I cast Greater Invis on it and then run over and slam the boss of an encounter. It will at worst deal a whole lot of damage and force the enemies to deal with it first, spending precious actions and spells/abilities. Nondetection is a trivial addition if the GM starts throwing See Invis on everything.

Sitri wrote:
Also remember that any levels the creature had are lost when raised.

Unless you raise it as an intelligent variant, in which case they keep levels (!!). We actually already nerfed that such that intelligent variants' class levels are turned into generic undead HD, which removes class abilities and spells. This doesn't even matter for creatures with racial HD like the Marsh Giant in my example though.


Bomanz wrote:

Opposing clerics and paladins might not be so happy to have such a beast running about too, and if its that overpowering a mini-crusade by some holy order probably wouldn't be too out of line.

Towns people are a superstitious lot, and might not want to sell your party goods or services.... the nervous shopkeeper eyes you uncertainly, and mumbles quietly "Its not you milord, its that...companion you have. Right evil it is, keeping such an evil creation like that. Me great great granmama was killed when something very like that came thru these parts. Unholy it is, and I sha'nt dishonor her memory by helping someone that keeps host with such. I'm very sorry, milord."

Even assuming you are never around other townspeople or small cities or such, and are just farting around in the wilderness, creatures would be very cognizant of such a creature being there. Hunting would be difficult. Predators/scavengers would be interested in the carrion/deathly smell. Bugs. (swarms of vermin, coming to feast on the semi-fleshy bits). Etc. It would be a real PITA.

Assuming you are in some dungeon somewhere, unless it too was built by giants, keeping such a beastie around (giant, amirite?) would be a challenge...every door is too small, it has to hunch over, getting around it would be a problem, see the rules for fighting in difficult terrain, ooops my pet got stuck in the crawlspace o drat now what?, etc.

Undead minions are tools, and should be nothing more. Just like I don't interact with the wrench when I take my car in to get fixed, nor should I interact with the undead minion.

Normally I'd say you have some good points, but our current campaign is an evil/pirate campaign and as such we are rarely in places where good clerics are likely to (a) be in force or (b) be willing to send out a party to where we are located. I suppose it's reasonable that if an undead lord gets too out of control a clerical order would send someone to try and take me out, but unless they win and kill me, it doesn't solve anything. It just re-scopes the campaign around trying to stop a single PC from getting too strong rather than the actual plot of the campaign.

When shopping, I can just leave my undead on our pirate ship or guarding the docks, close by but not in the shop. And the type of shopkeepers we encounter are not the kind that will care if I have undead "way back at the boat over there", they just wouldn't want them in the shop. After all, they sell to pirates regularly.

Sure, some of this is very specific to our campaign and thus may make it more difficult to handle this scenario.


bobthe wrote:

I'm currently playing a Wizard in an evil campaign in my Pathfinder group. Originally I was specializing in creating an Undead army, but we quickly realized that the ability to control undead by a party member is completely unbalanced. The ability to control four times your HD in undead is just insane. Consider that with Desecrate you can effectively have a single undead with four times the HD of each person in the party.

A great example came up in our last session. We killed a Marsh Giant with the Advanced template (so +4 to all stats) and 14 HD. What do you know, we're level 7, so I can animate it. Now I have a 14 HD undead giant in the party. It's attack bonus is almost a solid 50% higher than our main warrior-class character, not to mention the damage output, plus the fact that it will still benefit from party buff spells that aren't mental in nature (love those hasted undead giants). On top of this, it only takes up half my max HD I can control. So if we find another one I could control two of these beasts. Then there are feats that can increase the max HD you can control, plus Desecrate, which doubles the HD you can animate.

I guess my question is, how are other people balancing the ability for PCs to create and control undead in their campaigns? I haven't even touched on undead variants, which adds even more flexibility and power to the arsenal. On the NPC side each undead counts towards the encounter CR and is thus included in the encounter strength, but on the PC side they're basically free extra party members that you can replace even more easily than a PC. Oh, and those extra low-level enchanted weapons and armor found in loot that aren't worth a whole lot normally? My undead army just got stronger, plus the ability to overcome some DRs.

Unfortunately it can be quite a bother when you party is able to have the undead minions do their 'adventuring' for them. The GM should be able to work with/around this by presenting challenges that can work to minimize or neutralize the addition of these servants. I feel that the APL needs to go up equal to the amount of NPC henchmen, hirelings, followers or undead your party controls. No fair saying your APL is 7 if you have all those helpers too. The challenges need to be tailored to the actual power of the party, not just the PCs.

This has nothing to do with your original post, but is more of a mental exercise I'd like anyone's help with - am I reading the RAW correctly for turning your Marsh Giant into an undead?

Looking at the Marsh giant, seems like your GM buffed him up a bit with the Advanced Template (+4 to all stats). But the HD of the base creature should be 12d8, the advanced template does add HD, unless the GM was overruled this. (I do it frequently).

When you animated the giant using Animate Dead and Desecrate, you had to choose to become a skeleton or zombie. Either way it loses Int and Con scores. +1 hp/hd because it was made in the area of Desecration.

As a Zombie it would gain +2 Str, -2 Dex, Wis and Cha become 10 and no Int or Con score. BAB is 3/4 his HD (using 14HD BAB 10, 12HD BAB 9). Zombies lose all feats but does gain Toughness bonus feat (so extra HP here). Zombies have the staggered condition, so can only take a single move or standard action each round. You like to use Haste as you stated , but the Haste spell only grants an extra attack with a natural or manufactured weapon if using the Full Attack action, it does not grant an extra action. Since the zombie can't take a Full Attack action because he's permanently staggered, I wonder what effect Haste would have on him? Per the Haste spell description, if he took his move action he'd get +30ft of movement, if he took his attack action he'd get +1 bonus on attack rolls. Either way he also gets +1 dodge bonus to AC and reflex saves. So it's not a total overpower spell to Haste the zombie, it doesn't 'negate' his permanent staggered condition. Your giant zombie would only get a faster move action or a +1 to his attack and a +1 dodge to AC for the 7 rounds of the haste spell (your Wizard is lvl 7 right?). He could never get the extra attack action from Haste, and he cannot make multiple attacks using a standard action. So a zombie giant is limited to 1 attack or a move whether or not he's hasted.

Maybe I've made a mistake but that's how I interpret things. If you chose a skeleton giant, he would not have the staggered condition so you could gain the full benefit of Haste spell (1 extra attack when using Full attack action, +30ft to move, +1 attack and +1 dodge AC). Either way zombie or skeleton it would likely keep it's rock throwing extraordinary ability since both templates state the creature keeps any ex abilities that increase range or melee attacks.

For sure it's a great monster to have to bust down doors and smash your enemies!

Scarab Sages

True. I GM undead as close to as EXACTLY literal as possible...meaning:

pirates and undead lord are going to go buy stuff. "Undead minions! Gather round! You, guard that gangplank! You, watch from the crow's nest! You there, stand guard over my quarters! And you there, stand in the bow of the ship and guard that!"

great....now they stand there and guard. If say a clever rogue were to somehow set the boat afire, the undead would continue guarding there. If they were to have an anchor and small chain tossed around their feet, and then thrown overboard, off they go (if they miss the appropriate save, of course). Maybe they miss the unconventional attacks, from invisible people or such.

Also, the greed/paranoia/fear that other evil people have for rivals or potential rivals might indeed cause other bad guys to attack you.

And even then, even with the undead standing far away, a reputation follows: "I wuz told about ze man wit ze black cloak, who travels wit ze pirates before me...i don' wan be kept as undead afta you keel me, see?"

Lots of ways to deal with it, or have it dealt with. Its really all about how the GM wants to take care of it.


Sir Jeffrey wrote:

... This has nothing to do with your original post, but is more of a mental exercise I'd like anyone's help with - am I reading the RAW correctly for turning your Marsh Giant into an undead?

Looking at the Marsh giant, seems like your GM buffed him up a bit with the Advanced Template (+4 to all stats). But the HD of the base creature should be 12d8, the advanced template does add HD, unless the GM was overruled this. (I do it frequently). ...

(truncated quote for brevity)

I don't recall if the Advanced template specifically adds HD, but as GM you are always allowed to increase the HD of a creature, which ours did.

As for statting it up, I made it a Skeleton for a couple reasons.
1) Not staggered (i.e. gets a full action every round)
2) Cold immunity. I'm actually specializing in cold spells, so this synergizes well (e.g. Fireball turned into cold damage with the Admixture Specialist school, then don't care how many of my skeletons are in the area)

Skeleton adds +2 Dex, but his AC is low anyhow so this isn't a big deal. Charisma is lowered to 10 (overrides the "Advanced" +4) so no bonus HP (Desecration was not used). So it has around 67 HP if I recall. The big deal is its Strength. Base 27, +4, makes 31. That's a +10 to hit and damage. Including BAB for a 14 HD undead, it gets +19 to attack (+10 Str, +10 BAB, -1 Size). Plus a second attack at +14. Plus, if hasted, a third attack at +19. Damage with a greatclub is 2d8+15 at these stats for a large creature. That's quite significant for a level 7 party to have. Oh, and did I mention reach because it's large?

I am actually assuming that an undead giant would lose the rock throwing ability because it says you keep "Ex" abilities that enhance attacks, but that ability is a new attack. Now you have me wondering exactly where that line is drawn.

Dedicated Voter 2013

So what kind of pirate ship can keep from capsizing with an unintelligent undead giant walking on it? Unless the giant is tied down in the hold or specially designed (expensive) to accomodate easy egress on and off the ship, that I'd say it's a rather problematic issue.


gamer-printer wrote:
So what kind of pirate ship can keep from capsizing with an unintelligent undead giant walking on it? Unless the giant is tied down in the hold or specially designed (expensive) to accomodate easy egress on and off the ship, that I'd say it's a rather problematic issue.

Most ships that are used for cargo have large openings from the deck to lower goods into. I would expect a reasonably sized pirate ship to have a hold large enough to fit a giant (remember, this one is just Large, not Huge or anything bigger). In fact, since it's only size Large, the default squeezing rules would technically allow it to fit into the crew area I believe, but the cargo hold should do the trick nicely. I think your concern would come into play with a "TV or Movie" giant, where it's actually as big as a ship or building. Giants in D&D are really just VERY large humanoids until you get up to the really massive ones.


gamer-printer wrote:
So what kind of pirate ship can keep from capsizing with an unintelligent undead giant walking on it? Unless the giant is tied down in the hold or specially designed (expensive) to accomodate easy egress on and off the ship, that I'd say it's a rather problematic issue.

bobthe stated the giant was animated as a skeleton, so per the Animate dead spell it lost all flesh and is just a bare skeleton (maybe some nice gooey parts left for the fun of it).

Just a quick google search for 'what percent of body weight is the skeleton?' answer: Apparently the bones account for about 12% of body weight in females and about 15% in males in a normal sized frame.

D20pfsrd.com states Marsh Giant size: standing 11 feet tall and weighing around 1,500 pounds.

So quick math: 1500 x 15% = 225lb skeleton. Not going to tip over any boat that wouldn't tip from a large human male.

Now a 1500 pound rotting flesh zombie Marsh Giant, that might list the boat a bit.


Sir Jeffrey wrote:


So quick math: 1500 x 15% = 225lb skeleton. Not going to tip over any boat that wouldn't tip from a large human male.

Now a 1500 pound rotting flesh zombie Marsh Giant, that might list the boat a bit.

Now that is an interesting point we hadn't considered yet.

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