Animate dead is beyond crazy, please help


Advice


So...yea...party starting throwing some wonky curveballs and I don't know what to do about. After finishing the Skinsaw murders in Rise of the Runelords...my resident alchemist and wizard decided it would be a good idea to animate Xanesha(a lamia matriarch). Looking at the rules...I couldn't believe what I was reading...and neither could they.

As a now eighth level character they both can run around with 32 HD of undead? An animated zombie Xanesha is apparently a 14 HD creature for goodness sakes! What am I missing? I am a singular game session away from these two running around with giant ogre zombies as minions! 64HD of giant undead? Gimme a break...they'll just sick them on every combat and sit back and have a picnic. There has to be something I'm missing out on here.

Putting pressure about "evil acts" isn't working. They have a ranger in the party who has a favorite enemy of undead...but he's not willing to rock the boat because he figures, and rightly so, that roleplaying it the way it should be done would wind up dissolving the game. They're already talking about how they're just going to chain up their zombies outside of town so nobody sees them to avoid being routed out of Sandpoint and Turtleback Ferry. This just seems like an egregious wrecking of rules to me. I don't understand how a singular level 8 character can walk around with a coterie of that is essentially a CR 10 encounter?


Unless I'm missing something, any old person with a scroll of command undead (2nd level) or three could make their day go very poorly.

Especially if they have friends to distract your party while they are subverting their best zombies...

The best part is, as this is a low level spell, it's not unthinkable a caster would pick a couple up.

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It gets very expensive very fast, so if they're spending all their money on minions then they won't have any money for other stuff. Also Xanesha will lose her 1 rogue HD, and all of her abilities. Most animated zombies make pretty poor combatants, they're just good as meat shields.

If they make Xanesha a fast zombie (which they probably should because slow zombies are worthless in combat) then it's going to cost them 650 gold for a minion with only 58 HP and no DR. That should die pretty fast.


bloody skeleton for the win.


This is expensive. Once you start mowing zombies down they might rethink how they spend their money.

The Exchange

Good point on the 'fast zombies'. The party has to choose between moving half speed at all times (twice as many random encounters; more if you think certain monsters might be attracted by the smell of a plentitude of dead flesh) or giving up the 5/slashing DR that's really all that keeps a slow zombie alive.

Don't be afraid to have the zombies set off traps, wander stupidly when their particular commander is not specifically ordering them to stay in line, or even attack PCs (other than their commander) in the midst of a battle if they haven't specifically been ordered to ignore those 'targets'. Take advantage of the fact that the party's "Stealth" is now so low that the Perception check to note their approach may actually drop below 0. And sooner or later they're going to run into a necromancer or evil cleric who took the Command Undead ability - anybody who's read Order of the Stick knows things can get pretty bad when that happens.


I don't know if those spells in PF are still around in some book, but there used to be some necro spells which made zombies pretty attractive. I remember one that allowed you to blow up the undead near the enemy (or was it when they were killed?). Since it was low level but long-lasting, you could easily walk half a dozen 2 HD zombies near your enemies and blow them to hell.

And of course, as mentioned in OotS, most problems (like traps) can be solved with a number of dumb (undead) minions :)

If your players are willing to invest the cash and spells (and it isn't that high a cost), be prepared to face hordes of the undead. It is what all necromancers do, and not much different from conjurers or druids who rely on summoned (buffed up) beings.The low undead are of course not the best of minions, HD notwithstanding. Take into account that those mindless undead are mindless, too. They don't do what a thinking being would do, only what was told to them, so don't forget to play on that too.

People with undead minions have also problems which they would otherwise not have. Like encounters with paladins or clerics, who would otherwise be no encounter at all. That can be avoided most of the time by some planning, but it gets tedious.

There is a glitter of the new to it for them, and it will lose that over time. So I would not worry too much about it and merely adapt.

Shadow Lodge

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I suggest that you let them have a little fun with their Xanesha zombie for a few days. Give them some solid random encounters that it can wreck. If you outright take it away from them by GM fiat, it will probably be frustrating for the players and breed resentment.
However, I do not recommend that you let their creations seriously interfere with the main story. If it dramatically unbalances and overpowers encounters, add in story elements to bring it back in balance.

Maybe a small child discovers their gory 'stable' of undead in the woods and comes shrieking back to town about a zombie horde. The PCs then have to bravely (and convincingly!) dispatch the new menace and 'investigate' where it came from, hopefully under the watchful eye of some important and well-liked town leader, like Sheriff Hemlock.

In RotRL, there are plenty of ways that future bad guys can send their minions to mess with the PCs without outright breaking up the AP.
Perhaps an enemy from the next book is disguising itself to 'keep tabs on the PCs' and messes with their toys.

I agree with KrispyXIV. Let them have some fun with their new pet, then when it's time to get back to business, have a future villain take it over with Command Undead. The PCs will have to destroy her again and the corpse will be (conveniently) destroyed in combat.
You can also teach them that they may be able to control 32 HD of undead, but if they put all their eggs in one basket it can end quickly and horribly.

There are also plenty of ways that players can manage undead minions and not let them overpower encounters. Talk it over with them.
IMO, to prevent story interruption, undead and/or dominated minions should be somewhere between "harmless meat sacks" and "all-powerful wrecking balls."


Kayland wrote:
So...yea...party starting throwing some wonky curveballs and I don't know what to do about.

That's not even a wonky curveball, for a lot of people; it's standard procedure. Casters are insanely more powerful than martials if they actually use their abilities. (In this case, if they were smart, they'd animate dead on a chimera ASAP instead of the lamia, giving them a free flying mount with multiple attacks.) And just wait until they get create greater undead and start walking around with spectre bodyguards!

In my home game, I house rule that undead servitors use up Leadership potential. But RAW, anyone animating undead gets servants limited only by their HD and gp cost, with no feat required and no CR limitations.

Dark Archive

Definitely some good suggestions here, especially the fact that unless they spend more for Fast zombies they'll be moving at effectively half speed when travelling, that's going to get old fast (and double the chance of encounters seems like a fair move since they'd both be going slower and leaving a delicious scent of rotten meat for all the predators out there to follow them with, perhaps up the chance of animal encounters appropriately).

Let them have a few victories against nonvital fights but if there are necromancers or even other mages who might have a chance to hear about them then start introducing people who can take advantage of the undead and use them against the party, and of course as mentioned above the travelling knights who would otherwise perhaps wish them well or even help should they come across the party mid encounter will now attack the foul necromancers mercilessly :D

Long term, you may want to talk to your players about alignment, also depending upon what gods they follow their religion might come into things. Also, if -I- was a Paladin or Inquisitor of someone like Pharasma, personally I'd have contacts amongst the gem markets of a city and pay/intimidate them to inform me any time someone bought significant quantities of obsidian... like say, your players will probably have to do. Just a thought ;)

Shadow Lodge

Vatras wrote:


People with undead minions have also problems which they would otherwise not have. Like encounters with paladins or clerics, who would otherwise be no encounter at all. That can be avoided most of the time by some planning, but it gets tedious.

There is a glitter of the new to it for them, and it will lose that over time. So I would not worry too much about it and merely adapt.

I agree.

Wait until an enemy Wizard or Cleric Necromancer shows up, lays waste to their mundane zombies, and then uses Geb's Hammer against them.

The Exchange

Pretty sure they haven't encountered chimerae yet. In fact, I'm not sure there are any chimerae in RotRL, although one never knows what to expect random-encounter-wise once one is up on the Plateau.


@Kayland:

I don't think you're missing anything. This is something casters are quite capable of. Actually, xx HD of undead do not even begin to scratch the surface. It will not be as huge a problem as it might seem, unless somehow your campaign hinges completely on the players not animating.

my ROTR party just started Spires of Xin Xalast, and having seen their travel all the way through the books, I don't believe the casters using the tools at their disposal will hamper the campaign, as long as you run it legit.

If at some point in the campaign you insist that an encounter simply MUST be greatly challenging and you fear that minions will somehow hamper the challenge that this encounter MUST have, then I have one thing to say: so what?! You're the GM. The players will NEVER reach a point where you cannot challenge them. So if this encounter must be a challenge, add more enemies and tweak the existing enemies as you see fit.

Have fun with what your players are doing. :)

-Nearyn


Kirth Gersen wrote:
Kayland wrote:
So...yea...party starting throwing some wonky curveballs and I don't know what to do about.

That's not even a wonky curveball, for a lot of people; it's standard procedure. Casters are insanely more powerful than martials if they actually use their abilities. (In this case, if they were smart, they'd animate dead on a chimera ASAP instead of the lamia, giving them a free flying mount with multiple attacks.) And just wait until they get create greater undead and start walking around with spectre bodyguards!

In my home game, I house rule that undead servitors use up Leadership potential. But RAW, anyone animating undead gets servants limited only by their HD and gp cost, with no feat required and no CR limitations.

Using a zombie as a flying mount is one of the dumbest things you can do. Most Large or larger zombies will have a Clumsy speed, lose all their Fly ranks, and thus end up with a negative Fly check, making it impossible to make the simplest of checks. Stuff like ascending at more than a 45 degree angle, or not falling out of the air when struck.


Starting at 9th level, you put an illusion of the party on its back while using overland flight. But at lower levels, if the plot line calls for standard overland travel over bad terrain and long distances, a tireless flying zombie gets you there better than almost anything else at your disposal (horses are still better for shorter distances or open roads).


Suthainn wrote:

Definitely some good suggestions here, especially the fact that unless they spend more for Fast zombies they'll be moving at effectively half speed when travelling, that's going to get old fast (and double the chance of encounters seems like a fair move since they'd both be going slower and leaving a delicious scent of rotten meat for all the predators out there to follow them with, perhaps up the chance of animal encounters appropriately).

Let them have a few victories against nonvital fights but if there are necromancers or even other mages who might have a chance to hear about them then start introducing people who can take advantage of the undead and use them against the party, and of course as mentioned above the travelling knights who would otherwise perhaps wish them well or even help should they come across the party mid encounter will now attack the foul necromancers mercilessly :D

Long term, you may want to talk to your players about alignment, also depending upon what gods they follow their religion might come into things. Also, if -I- was a Paladin or Inquisitor of someone like Pharasma, personally I'd have contacts amongst the gem markets of a city and pay/intimidate them to inform me any time someone bought significant quantities of obsidian... like say, your players will probably have to do. Just a thought ;)

In regards to watching the gem markets, there is a list in the back of (I think) The Undead Hunters Handbook that talks about towns and Onyx, the main spell component for necro spells, and how in most towns and cities buying/selling onyx is flat out illegal, as well as carrying around large quantities of it. Very few apaprently have onyx being something you can buy easily, because everyone knows who needs it and they don't want THOSE types around. Prety much the only cities that let you buy it with impunity are also the ones that would let you ride around in a bone carriage pulled by the corpses of your fallen foes.


a lot of people miss this but the material component of the spell is limited to single onyx that is worth 25pg per hit dice. which according to ultimate equipment guide can be worth no more than 65gp, thus the spell is limited to 2 hit dice creatures, but this same component is used for create undead and created greater, when make those spell completely useless as they don’t even function using the ultimate equipment guide rules on the gem. So Dm's often have to house rule that you can use more than one onyx with the spell or actual make onyx worth more than that.

Also you choices of undead are limited skeletons and zombie, most creature actual and up worse and almost useless as these creatures, as they lose feats, features, defensive and offensive abilities. hp take a huge hit to lower numbers, bab often takes a hit and natural armor gets reduces to almost nothing and they have no skills. Also most are destroyed at 0 hp so all that money you spent is gone in an instant. This could lead to loss of flight or the undead is constantly staggered, meaning very little action.

So it is really not that strong because a single fireball spell or some other area effect spell could kill them all quickly leading you heavy loss of funds.

Here where it gets strong and useful especially in a powerful in a pre-written AP, the variety skeleton the bloody one. Is really nasty in APs because of they have unending regeneration. Wait a few mins and the start to heal right back up. There is a weakness them, but very few creatures in APs have ability to overcome as evil or negative energy designed creatures for good pcs to overcome. They are not setup to defeat evil undead. Another weakness and they count as double hit dice you allowed to create but not control once they are created they use normal hit dice for control. This is where desecrate spell come in handy as it allowed to create double the normal hit dice creatures you normally could and give bonus hp to each undead created.

So it can be very strong if you as dm are not ready for it or willing to adjust a prewritten AP to the party and there tactics.

The Exchange

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'Sani wrote:
...there is a list in the back of (I think) The Undead Hunters Handbook that talks about towns and Onyx, the main spell component for necro spells, and how in most towns and cities buying/selling onyx is flat out illegal, as well as carrying around large quantities of it. Very few apparently have onyx being something you can buy easily, because everyone knows who needs it and they don't want THOSE types around...

But if they're creating an artificial scarcity by restricting the supply, the cost of onyx would go up! And that means you'd need less onyx to create each zombie! What they ought to do is mine the stuff wholesale, flood the market, so that you'd need a boulder of solid onyx to animate so much as a rat skeleton!

Silver Crusade

I've got a similar situation in my campaign, the party's resident LN Cleric of a Revenge god decided he'd reanimate a RedCap the party encounted as a means of 'having him pay back (deity) for attempting to kill his servants.'

Said Red cap hits like a ton of bricks, is hideously fast, is able to use martial weapons of normal size, and has fast healing.

And that's just the animate dead allotment. He can still channel to command other undead. And he's got the undead master archetype so he's got a little undead pet skeleton too.

I have warned him though that if he loses control of the little bastard though, everyone's going to be in for a world of hurt. And he's been in at least one command undead tug-o-war with an evil cleric to know that he's only a failed charisma check away from his servant scything /his/ face.

Also as an undead, the commands have to be pretty damn direct and sensible. The thing is mindless and behaves like a creepy bleeding robot. He discovered that if you tell skeleton to open a door and the mechanism is harder then 'push door open,' it has trouble with it.

He likes the bloody red cap bloody skeleton, but it concerns him every time it goes out of eyesight. One time he had to give it a command to 'attack the enemy' only to have an enemy charm and ally into attacking it, which put him on the redcap's 'enemy' list.

The party also thinks its horrendously creepy and dangerous to have around.

EDIT: Incidentally, the LN Cleric? 5th level. He made the bloody skeleton in a desecrated area.


One angle no one is discussing is the RP angle with the Ranger who hates undead.
He's not going to rock the boat, for the sake of the party's integrity and game continuance?
In other words, he is choosing to RP his character in a ridiculous fashion.

What if he was a Paladin? Would that change anything? No LG Paladin would allow that nonsense in his party, and neither should a Ranger who's hated enemy is Undead.

Your players are choosing cheesy circular arguments to justify having undead minions in a group that almost certainly shouldn't tolerate it.

You may as well have your Party consist of Paladins and Anti-paladins, Angels and Devils, all working together in harmony because...reasons.
It doesn't make sense, it is silly for the ranger to stay in that party.


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KainPen wrote:
a lot of people miss this but the material component of the spell is limited to single onyx that is worth 25pg per hit dice. which according to ultimate equipment guide can be worth no more than 65gp, thus the spell is limited to 2 hit dice creatures....

I think that one did not take this spell into account so it is a rule that never should have been made.


Zedth wrote:

One angle no one is discussing is the RP angle with the Ranger who hates undead.

He's not going to rock the boat, for the sake of the party's integrity and game continuance?
In other words, he is choosing to RP his character in a ridiculous fashion.

What if he was a Paladin? Would that change anything? No LG Paladin would allow that nonsense in his party, and neither should a Ranger who's hated enemy is Undead.

Your players are choosing cheesy circular arguments to justify having undead minions in a group that almost certainly shouldn't tolerate it.

You may as well have your Party consist of Paladins and Anti-paladins, Angels and Devils, all working together in harmony because...reasons.
It doesn't make sense, it is silly for the ranger to stay in that party.

I can see the ranger telling the necromancer to find another way to be effective, but at the same time not all players handle party strife well. Sometimes it boils over into RL and that is what I think the ranger player is worried about. I would be killing undead if I hated them.

short version: That is why people should keep other informed during the character creation process.

Silver Crusade

The maximum value of onyx thing seems like a B.A. Felton style dodge.

Admittedly, routinely locating huge onyxes might be tricky, but it'd also put a verisimilitude kibosh on the animation shennigans of NPCs.

They don't get to keep populating their places with bloody skeletons, undead skeletal dragons, giant skeletal great apes and zombie dinosaurs anymore either if we're going to go along with 'there aren't onyxs big enough.'


Have the two PC's looking for gems find out the city supply has been purchased by some mysterious NPC which they can RP to locate. Have the PC's directed to a warehouse within which is a Necromancer guarding the onyx. A necromancer that has a particularly high charisma that controls the offending zombies and turns them against the party.
Let them escape minus their 'undead friends' and hope that puts an end to their evil ways!


Spook205 wrote:

I've got a similar situation in my campaign, the party's resident LN Cleric of a Revenge god decided he'd reanimate a RedCap the party encounted as a means of 'having him pay back (deity) for attempting to kill his servants.'

Said Red cap hits like a ton of bricks, is hideously fast, is able to use martial weapons of normal size, and has fast healing.

And that's just the animate dead allotment. He can still channel to command other undead. And he's got the undead master archetype so he's got a little undead pet skeleton too.

I have warned him though that if he loses control of the little bastard though, everyone's going to be in for a world of hurt. And he's been in at least one command undead tug-o-war with an evil cleric to know that he's only a failed charisma check away from his servant scything /his/ face.

Also as an undead, the commands have to be pretty damn direct and sensible. The thing is mindless and behaves like a creepy bleeding robot. He discovered that if you tell skeleton to open a door and the mechanism is harder then 'push door open,' it has trouble with it.

He likes the bloody red cap bloody skeleton, but it concerns him every time it goes out of eyesight. One time he had to give it a command to 'attack the enemy' only to have an enemy charm and ally into attacking it, which put him on the redcap's 'enemy' list.

The party also thinks its horrendously creepy and dangerous to have around.

EDIT: Incidentally, the LN Cleric? 5th level. He made the bloody skeleton in a desecrated area.

So you do realize that regular Zombies and Skeletons lose all of their special abilities, right? Meaning the Red Cap skeleton shouldn't be all that tough.

And also shouldn't still be able to wield Medium weapons.

It's basically just an 8 HD member of the party, except it's unoptimized stats-wise, has no Feats (besides Improved Initiative), and doesn't follow orders or think for itself very well.

Great cannon fodder (until you fight a Cleric who Channels some positive his way and it's dead for good) but shouldn't be "crazy good" by any metric.

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