The capabilities of the mindless


Pathfinder First Edition General Discussion


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Pathfinder Pawns, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Specifically, mindless undead.

If fleeing from a zombie, you run through an open door, closing it behind you, does the zombie know enough about doors to open it?

If you knock a zombie down, does it know that it can stand up, or does it just crawl after you like...well...a mindless idiot.

If I were to bury several zombies underground, could I have them rise and attack my enemies with a predetermined signal? Could they even remember a predetermined signal? (I think yes, as it is little different from commanding them to wait around and kill creatures entering the area.)

Just how far does "being mindless" get you? What exactly are a mindless creatures limits? What are their capabilities, however limited?

Please discuss.

Scarab Sages

Ravingdork wrote:

Specifically, mindless undead.

If fleeing from a zombie, you run through an open door, closing it behind you, does the zombie know enough about doors to open it?

Doubtful, I would most likely have them break the door down, eventually

Quote:
If you knock a zombie down, does it know that it can stand up, or does it just crawl after you like...well...a mindless idiot.

Do insects, also mindless, know how to stand up? I would assume they are too stupid to avoid AoO's and automatically make the attempt.

Quote:
If I were to bury several zombies underground, could I have them rise and attack my enemies with a predetermined signal? Could they even remember a predetermined signal? (I think yes, as it is little different from commanding them to wait around and kill creatures entering the area.)

Signal? Braiiiinnnnssss!!!!!!!!

Quote:
Just how far does "being mindless" get you? What exactly are a mindless creatures limits? What are their capabilities, however limited?

Move in straight lines, make to attempt to avoid provoking, always attack the nearest living target, not tactical maneuvering.

Sort of how certain DM's think animal companions should behave.

Paizo Employee

For my games:
1) Mindless creatures don't know how to open doors
2) They can, and will, stand up every time they are knocked prone, regardless of the situation.
3) I would say one predetermined signal is OK, as long as what you are having them do is simple enough that they could do it on their own

As for the actions of mindless creatures, my general rule is that they attack the nearest creature (PC, squirrel, whatever), unless something hit them in melee, and then they swing back. They break ties randomly. If nothing changes their target on future rounds, they keep attacking the same target until they are destroyed, they drop the target, or the target retreats too far. "Too far" includes into the air out of reach, stealthing, going invisible, or closing a door.

I think of them like simple robots, with a small set of pre-programmed commands that they follow, with no ability to adapt to the situation.


I take my cues from horror movies:

They smash through doors... or walls to get at their meals

They stand up, but only when it proves the most frightening

They can be pre-programmed but have no strategy other than FEEEEEED!

I suppose in the end mindless undead should be as mindless as other mindless vermin are. Our Ten Toes there has the right of it treating them like insects. Zombies will survive the next apocalypse, along side cockroaches. Why? B/cause they will BE the next apocalypse...


Artanthos wrote:
Ravingdork wrote:

Specifically, mindless undead.

If fleeing from a zombie, you run through an open door, closing it behind you, does the zombie know enough about doors to open it?

Doubtful, I would most likely have them break the door down, eventually

Yep, that seems like the most likely thing to happen. Just watch a zombie movie and see what the zombies act like ;)

Artanthos wrote:
Quote:
If you knock a zombie down, does it know that it can stand up, or does it just crawl after you like...well...a mindless idiot.
Do insects, also mindless, know how to stand up? I would assume they are too stupid to avoid AoO's and automatically make the attempt.

Think of the zombie's behavior as some kind of "programmed". It is "programmed" to mimick the movement capabilities it had in life (although limited by its zombie-speed), so it would just slowly stand up. On the other hand, a GM can also just have the zombie crawl and attack while prone. This depends completely on the kind of mood the GM wants to set.

Artanthos wrote:
Quote:
Just how far does "being mindless" get you? What exactly are a mindless creatures limits? What are their capabilities, however limited?

Move in straight lines, make to attempt to avoid provoking, always attack the nearest living target, not tactical maneuvering.

Sort of how certain DM's think animal companions should behave.

What do you mean by think? Since there are animal tricks to enable tactical movement, I would definitely not allow an animal companion to make tactical choices without a Handle Animal check (which might be an automatic success, depending on the DC and the handler's modifier).

The main difference is that animals can be told to perform tactical choices with Handle Animal checks, while mindless creatures will never make any tactical choices.
There are also different types of being mindless. Undead are dead shells that are animated by dark magic, vermin on the other hand are insects and other spineless creatures that are used to operate in a swarm or won't understand orders for any other reason. (too stupid to learn any tricks :P )

Scarab Sages

Andreas Forster wrote:
Artanthos wrote:
Quote:
Just how far does "being mindless" get you? What exactly are a mindless creatures limits? What are their capabilities, however limited?

Move in straight lines, make to attempt to avoid provoking, always attack the nearest living target, not tactical maneuvering.

Sort of how certain DM's think animal companions should behave.

What do you mean by think? Since there are animal tricks to enable tactical movement, I would definitely not allow an animal companion to make tactical choices without a Handle Animal check (which might be an automatic success, depending on the DC and the handler's modifier).

Animal companions are not mindless, yet describing the behavior of the mindless runs almost exactly parallel to how certain people expect them to act.


I saw an official d20 Modern campaign where zombies could dial a specific phone number (presumably they knew the pattern, as they can't read) to "call in a threat". They couldn't talk though, so it wasn't much different from having an alarm system.


I disagree that anything that can act on its own is 'mindless'. it has to have some mind, even a rudimentary one, or else it could not receive sensory input and process it even to make a 'flight or fight' reflex. Mindless things are objects, not creatures. (Blah rules blah I disagree with the rules blah)

Even a zombie is smart enough to realize 'I can catch my prey faster if I stand up and shamble instead of crawling', I would say. Opening unlocked doors seems simple enough as well.

'Attack when I ring a bell' seems as simple as 'attack whenever anybody enters', so I'd give that one as well.

Flanking and things like tripping/bearing a target to the ground to make it easier to attack/chew on seem obvious to me as well.

The Exchange

It's a line every GM draws a little differently, and what's more, I think the line varies depending on the kind of mindlessness involved. Vermin, mindless undead, and constructs are all likely to have their own variant. For instance, a giant bug knocked on its back will probably prioritize getting right-side up over its "attack prey" instinct, while a zombie would probably have the opposite order of priority.


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"They are capable of running for Congress" joke goes here


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Sloanzilla wrote:

"They are capable of running for Congress" joke goes here

You semi-ninja'd me. I was going to say that the mindless are capable of electing and re-electing demonstrably terrible presidents.

The Exchange

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"Rutherford B. Hayes Won: Don't Blame Me, Blame The Zombie Voters."

T-shirt?


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Pathfinder Pawns, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Zhayne wrote:
I disagree that anything that can act on its own is 'mindless'. it has to have some mind, even a rudimentary one, or else it could not receive sensory input and process it even to make a 'flight or fight' reflex.

Jellyfish disprove your beliefs. They are clearly mindless (literally not having a brain or similar organ), but are still considered living creatures.


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Ravingdork wrote:
Zhayne wrote:
I disagree that anything that can act on its own is 'mindless'. it has to have some mind, even a rudimentary one, or else it could not receive sensory input and process it even to make a 'flight or fight' reflex.
Jellyfish disprove your beliefs. They are clearly mindless (literally not having a brain or similar organ), but are still considered living creatures.

To be fair, they do have a nervous and do have a sense of their surroundings(nerve net). They do have a brain and do respond to sensation, but they probably don't have deep philosophical dreams. Its definitely alien and different to a human brain. No idea what their opinions on door knobs are.(Completely unrelated, one of my favorite responces in video game dialogue is "Because jellyfish wish it so!")

Anyways, I'm not a big fan of mindless or immune to mind affecting as they are in game so its hard to comment. I usually don't think too much about it and just run it like a zombie movie if its zombies.


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Zhayne wrote:

'Attack when I ring a bell' seems as simple as 'attack whenever anybody enters', so I'd give that one as well.

Flanking and things like tripping/bearing a target to the ground to make it easier to attack/chew on seem obvious to me as well.

Well, now we are getting down to simple Pavlov. Zombies attack at the first sign of prey, and now we are discussing how far they can recognize a sign. Associating something strongly with the prescience of prey is the key.

In every zombie movie, there is a moment when some idiot knocks over a pile of pots or pans or something, and then the horde comes charging. A simple signal or trap that recreates that does not seem too much.

Ravingdork wrote:
Zhayne wrote:
I disagree that anything that can act on its own is 'mindless'. it has to have some mind, even a rudimentary one, or else it could not receive sensory input and process it even to make a 'flight or fight' reflex.
Jellyfish disprove your beliefs. They are clearly mindless (literally not having a brain or similar organ), but are still considered living creatures.

Jellyfish have something called a "nerve ring" that serves the same purpose. Insects have minibrains throughout their bodies, each tasked with different sets of controls, called ganglia.

Now admittedly, turnicates are as close to mindless as you get. They start off as little tadpole things...then then turn into filter feeders as they become adults. This transition includes the digestion of their own ganglion, their brains, for energy. And why would they need it? At that point, they are little better than plants or mushrooms, just filtering water for nutrients.

Edit: damn...spent too long looking up about turnicates and ended up getting ninja'd by a good 20 minutes.


I disagree with zombies standing up actually, They would probably attack you from prone.

I think vermin intelligence is different from INT: -


CWheezy wrote:

I disagree with zombies standing up actually, They would probably attack you from prone.

I think vermin intelligence is different from INT: -

Vermin

Specifically:
Giant Antlion
Giant Wasp
Fire Beetle
Giant Botfly
Centipede Swarm
Giant Crab
Jellyfish
Common Eurypterid
Giant Mantis

Compared with...

Zombies (basic one)

All of those have the "INT -" entry.

That's not to say that they don't behave differently, but statistically, they have the same INT-score (or rather, lack of one). If you're not satisfied with the general rules, that's fine. I was just bringing it up. :)


RavingDork wrote:

Specifically, mindless undead.

If fleeing from a zombie, you run through an open door, closing it behind you, does the zombie know enough about doors to open it?

it saw you manipulate the door, that is enough evidence for the zombie to open the door.

Ravingdork wrote:

If you knock a zombie down, does it know that it can stand up, or does it just crawl after you like...well...a mindless idiot.

if you knock them down, they can still stand, but if they witness other zombies being annihilated by that strategy, it will simply attack you while prone

Ravingdork wrote:

If I were to bury several zombies underground, could I have them rise and attack my enemies with a predetermined signal? Could they even remember a predetermined signal? (I think yes, as it is little different from commanding them to wait around and kill creatures entering the area.)

Just how far does "being mindless" get you? What exactly are a mindless creatures limits? What are their capabilities, however limited?

Please discuss.

yes you could use a signal to command them, and yes, they would know a signal


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Some consideration should be given to the animating force. If animated by a neutral force, such as "generic magic animus", it would stand to reason that they could be treated by the animator like a robot or computer with an extremely simple operating system. A greater latitude in directions might be reasonable if the animus were "Good" or "Evil" magic, especially of a divine nature. It might be reasonable that the overall intents of such a force might lend a basic inclination towards appropriate actions on the part of the animated. It would certainly be within the tropes of the genre for an evil cleric to be able to tell his animated minions, even were they of a 'mindless' type, to "Go thou, my unholy troops and bugger my foes most enthusiastically!" Well, maybe not literally, but I do try not to overthink such things in my games.


Dr. Wholmes wrote:
Some consideration should be given to the animating force. If animated by a neutral force, such as "generic magic animus", it would stand to reason that they could be treated by the animator like a robot or computer with an extremely simple operating system. A greater latitude in directions might be reasonable if the animus were "Good" or "Evil" magic, especially of a divine nature. It might be reasonable that the overall intents of such a force might lend a basic inclination towards appropriate actions on the part of the animated. It would certainly be within the tropes of the genre for an evil cleric to be able to tell his animated minions, even were they of a 'mindless' type, to "Go thou, my unholy troops and bugger my foes most enthusiastically!" Well, maybe not literally, but I do try not to overthink such things in my games.

So... How does good and evil come into the act of opening and door and which one does it better?


Depends on whether or not it is an ominous door which must never be opened, yeah? Good probably knocks first and brings pizza, whilst evil brings avon or asks if you've got a minute to talk about your relationship with Hastur. The really evil ones would likely resemble innocent girls and peddle cookies.. the fiends!


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I think it would be best to look at the capabilities of the undead from a Psychological perspective.

I would classify a zombie as lacking all of the brain functions required for intelligence- Those being memory, the ability to learn, reason, plan, ponder, etc. I see zombies as having a very simple set of directives, in a twisted way similar to the 3 laws of robotics.

1# To carry out the commands of whatever power is using control/command undead on it (though it lacks the ability to learn/reason/plan/make associations, so such control needs to be fairly simply or direct)
2# To bite and claw at any living creature within reach, except when told not to by directive 1#
3# To move directly towards the nearest, most accessible or most apparent living creature with the intention of carrying out function 2#

This means a zombie under the control of a necromancer could suppress instincts 2# and 3#, and could even carry out complex functions (like ride a bicycle or write in a book) but only under the direct supervision of the necromancer. (The necromancer would not be telling it to write for example, as it lacks the context to understand what that is. He would instead have to tell it to move its hand while grasping a pen)

Leaving instructions for a zombie would be incredibly difficult, and teaching would be impossible- try teaching someone with chronic memory loss or severe dementia.

Of course, different people interpret the undead differently. I know of a player who when being pursued by the rest of the party for being evil, left behind a trail of skeletons each equipped with a wand of magic missile and the instructions to break the wand the next time they saw someone. This was under a DM in 3.5 who had it ruled so that destroying magic items caused an explosion. This requires more mental capability in the mindless undead than I personally attribute to them.


On the topic of mindless undead, what does everyone think on what actions non-controlled mindless undead do when left on their own and how do uncontrolled undead react to controlled undead ?
do they present any kind of herd instinct and follow the controlled undead or do they ignore everything else unless they detect anything alive and kill it (assuming evil alignment) and go back to wandering or doing nothing ?


I, too, feel that "mindless" is too extreme. By the same token that other material should never say things like "this material is unbreakable" or "this ability can never be suppressed" because it corners expansion. By saying that any creature with any degree of autonomy, method of locomotion, and biological needs is totally mindless is too severe. It's already been stated that there is a much wider range of consciousness than the game system accounts for. In most instances, I would treat creatures that are currently considered "mindless" to be either Int 0 or 1 and tack on a trait to either one that essentially states the kinds of functions it is capable of performing, and a caveat about Int 0 not being totally vegetated.

Zombie intelligence should be based on the animating force, and then to what degree that force affects the corpse. A disease-based zombie should have an Int score that decreases as it decomposes (minimum 0, with the aforementioned trait). A magically created zombie should have an Int score that increases as it ages (to a predetermined cap, probably 3 or so, also with the aforementioned trait).

This is actually begging to be picked up by a 3rd party publisher. Hope someone's taking notes.


I get what CHweezy meant by saying a vermins lack of intelligence is "smarter" than a construct or zombie, in a sense. A vermin can't reason, but it has to have enough "computing" power to function as a predator. More over the "mindless" jellyfish have been observed to chase prey and swim in a very specific pattern. On a similar note, animals and animal companions may not make super detailed plans, but to say they are incapable of using tactics is strange, especially for predators..wolves, big cats, etc use plenty of tactual moves, some requiring a bit of foresight.
To me, zombies and constructs don't have "intelligence". When left alone they don't think, process, or otherwise interact with anything. When disturbed, they act as they are "programed": a golem smashes its foes as long as it detects them. Zombies seek to destroy their prey in the most direct way possible. To use the examples above..most zombies i run would not be able to open a door, as they don't process it AS a door as much as a barrier. Of course sneaking a zombie in now and then that CAN is just fun. As far as standing up..i would go with whatever freaked out the players most.

Dark Archive

I look coward to seeing more advice. I am currently findinittle hardcore rule scrunch as I look into the topic. I need to learn this stuff to better understand how an undead lord oracle should be handled. I currently find all the action economy a bit much. I also get the impression this topic may not have many rules on controlling undead as there are rules for animal companions and eidolons because the game wants to leave this to NPCs instead of the PCs.

Liberty's Edge

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Ravingdork wrote:
Zhayne wrote:
I disagree that anything that can act on its own is 'mindless'. it has to have some mind, even a rudimentary one, or else it could not receive sensory input and process it even to make a 'flight or fight' reflex.
Jellyfish disprove your beliefs. They are clearly mindless (literally not having a brain or similar organ), but are still considered living creatures.

I came across a neat article on slimemolds today. Slimemolds are single cell creautres with no brain or nervous system, but they are capable of remembering, making decisions, and anticipating change. According to the article, when researchers placed oat flakes or other bits of food in the same positions as big cities and urban areas onside laboratories slime molds have effectively re-created Tokyo's railway network in miniature as well as the highways of Canada, the U.K. and Spain.

That's pretty darn impressive for an ooze. In terms of the game, I guess that shows you that "mindless" creatures, while probably not particularly inventive, would be capable of fairly effective tactics at least in a fairly narrow and predefined way.

Shadow Lodge

I'd go with the movie version of zombies, where, while mindless, they can sometimes respond to certain stimuli with "remembered" behavior from their life.


Kthulhu wrote:
I'd go with the movie version of zombies, where, while mindless, they can sometimes respond to certain stimuli with "remembered" behavior from their life.

If a party was holed up in a building behind a sturdy, but unlocked, door, I kind of want to make a dice roll to see if the zombie remembered how to work a door. Obviously it would need to pass a high DC, but there is would be at least a bit of tension for the PCs and comedy for me imagining a rather confused zombie fumbling the roll round after round.

"I know this, I got this. Now, if I...no...maybe if I...."


Kthulhu wrote:
I'd go with the movie version of zombies, where, while mindless, they can sometimes respond to certain stimuli with "remembered" behavior from their life.

I.E. about the intelligence of a dog or other mammal.

Long story short, mindless undead and constructs should have intelligence scores of at least 1, for the most part.

Silver Crusade

And 1 still isn't enough to operate a door.

I had a dog, they're pegged as int 2 by the rules. Just by shutting a door you're able to create an impenetrable barrier to them. The concept of a latch is outside of their understanding, even if they get 'push obstruction until it opens' or 'bark until a human shows up and opens it for me.'

Zombies and their cousins skeletons are kind of malicious dullards. Most corporeal undead tend to be lacking in the brain department until you hit high CR (ghouls a notable early CR exception).

Insects similarly wouldn't get doors. They'd try to bypass the obstruction. Both the undead and vermin thoughhave what I'd call a 'programming hueristic' to fall back on. Not so much learned behavior, or even training, just 'when X, I Y.'


Growing up, my two dogs would open doors. They'd rear up on their hind legs, put their front paws on either side of the door handle, and sort of shuffle them until the door came open.

The Exchange

Depending on the dog and the doorknob, it can happen. It does seem to be their lack of thumbs, not an intellectual limitation, that keeps dogs outside. (Cats, on the other hand, seem to feel that the door ought to know to get out of their way.)

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Spook205 wrote:

And 1 still isn't enough to operate a door.

Zombies do have their own door operation method.. It's called swarm and batter until it breaks down. And depending on what movie you watch they have their sensory methods of detecting prey, and built in instincts to catch and devour it.


The key difference between a dog and a zombie is the dog learns. Put the two against an electric fence ( hypothetically, do this for real and I will hunt you down)
The dog will quickly learn that touching the fence causes a lot of pain, and will stop touching the fence.
The zombie will keep walking into the fence until it collapses into a charred pile of meat.


Inkaos wrote:
The zombie will keep walking into the fence until it collapses into a charred pile of meat.

Have you met a zombie to know if this is what happens?


MrSin wrote:
Inkaos wrote:
The zombie will keep walking into the fence until it collapses into a charred pile of meat.
Have you met a zombie to know if this is what happens?

Yes. I stood on the other side of the fence and wrote down my observations. It's important to note this was with specially bred lab zombies.


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Zhayne wrote:
I disagree that anything that can act on its own is 'mindless'. it has to have some mind, even a rudimentary one, or else it could not receive sensory input and process it even to make a 'flight or fight' reflex.

I don't think zombies have a flight reflex.

RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32

I had a player argue with me about putting a fly spell on his zombies. He argued that the zombies would be able to fly and I stated that since they were mindless and had no sense or idea what flying was or that they could move upward, that it wouldn't work (the magic would be effective, the zombies just wouldn't know to go up). I agree with the idea that mindless is a set of very strict parameters and once you've surpassed them they are still limited to options A,B, or C. Zombies dont open doors for instance.

I gave him the option of casting another spell which he did.

Silver Crusade

I'd argue the fly spell would let the zombies fulfill their 'move towards the target' mindset, but complicated operations of it would be outside their functionality.

Basically a zombie's default program is 'move towards, hit until it falls over, move on.'

I can see it not caring how it moves, so long as it moves. So a passive spell that makes them move is better then one they need to activate.

IE: A zombie wouldn't understand it can fly over a barricade, but if an opponent is floating above it directly, I'd argue a fly spell-equipped zombie could just go directly up.

Hillariously though, I don't think it would be smart enough to maintain its flight and would flop back down after making its swing.


This thread needs a little (more) necromancy!!

one of my PCs is getting into the business of raising the dead to do his mildly evil bidding, so I've been thinking about this question a lot.

Largely, I think that for game purposes, limiting mindless creatures to the description in animate dead is a good idea. ie they understand exactly 4 commands. Attack, follow, stay, stop. You can combine attack with follow to make it guard you or attack with stay to make it guard an area.

It follows the commands to the best of its abilities, but if it loses line of sight of the target, it resets (eg in the closed door example above, it just goes back to its starting point and continues to carry out its instructions).

Obviously not a complete set of rules for mindless creatures, some of which are naturally mindless and mange to live out their entire existences in that way. But it seems to work for necromanced undead.


But what about Directive 4? I guess that's classified...

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