Animate undead abuse


Rules Questions


Hypothetically there's a level 5 cleric with desecrate, animate dead, and the feat undead master. This causes the character to have a 36 HD animate dead pool. What stops the character, beyond me saying no, from raising a high-CR, 18 HD creature under his controls such as the Ice Linnorm? What does a skeleton Ice Linnorm lose from a regular Ice Linnorm? I know he won't find high CR HD things, but I'm still concerned this will become a problem in the future.

Silver Crusade

The material cost for one thing, your limiting access to corpses for another. The highest CR zombie is 9, which is about what level you have to be at to get one, assuming you really worked the system to get a powerful zombie. By the way, one Control Undead spell, and suddenly the cleric gets to have his favorite toy taken from him.

By the way, he may have a pool of up to 36 HD, but a zombie, according to Bestiary tables, can only have a max of 26 HD.

Scarab Sages

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Well for one he would have to find a dead 18 HD creature to re-animate, any those aren't too common in civilized or uncivilized areas, dead or alive. Also remember that undead lose nearly all their nice abilities when animated.

He also would have to be careful where he brings his horde/scary undead super-soldier. Necromancers happen to have a stereotypically bad reputation, and hiding a colossal skeleton is easier said than done. He would have to suffer the Role Playing consequences in an RPG

As to what a Ice Linnorm would lose upon being animated, nearly everything. AC drops to 19 (7 dex, 10 NA, -8 size), DR drops to 5/bludgeoning, loses regeneration, loses SR, HP drops to 81, loses all skills and feats (except for improved initiative), loses all special abilites (yes, including the breath weapon), loses flight, BAB drops to 13, fort and ref become bad saves, claw attack damage increases to 2d8+str. That's all I think. In short bit becomes a pathetic shadow of it's former self (which his still terrifying to low level encounters, but much less so than and actual Ice Linnorm)

Silver Crusade

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Actually, the hypothetical linnorm would have about 126 hp. 18 racial hd, +10 for being a colossal zombie, multiplied by 4.5 for average HP, which should technically be 5 as it is for PFS, still makes it 126.

Which also means a BAB of 21, and similarly heightened saves.


Val'bryn2 wrote:

Actually, the hypothetical linnorm would have about 126 hp. 18 racial hd, +10 for being a colossal zombie, multiplied by 4.5 for average HP, which should technically be 5 as it is for PFS, still makes it 126.

Which also means a BAB of 21, and similarly heightened saves.

You'd also add the charisma modifier to it's health as well since it's an undead. Oh, its BAB would be 13 instead of 21.

What type of corpses do you think would be reasonable for me to have him able to raise? I was thinking his CL roughly equal to their HD.

Silver Crusade

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Zombies specifically drop Charisma to 10, which means no charisma modifier to add to hp. And how do you figure 13? It's got 28 HD, at a BAB:HD ratio of .75:1 . The 13 would work for a 18 HD, but it's not 18 HD anymore.


Val'bryn2, what do you base maximum HD on? I can find no such restriction.

Silver Crusade

I'm going off of the table for Zombie in the Bestiary, where it lists HD/CR/XP. The chart tops out at 28, so while it COULD be extrapolated, I'm basing it on what's written. Page 288, first table, second column.


What about a skeleton ice linnorm?

Silver Crusade

Well, you could make two of them with one casting, for a little under 1000 gp. HP will be significantly less than Zombie, same for BAB. Now we're in the 80 hp 13 BAB territory. Could create one as the Bloody Skeletal Linnorm, which would have Fast Healing 9, enabling it to have some staying power.


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Val'bryn2, that table is for the purposes of calculating CR and XP. It has no bearing on what, if any, the maximum HD of a zombie is. All it shows is that a 29HD zombie has no known CR and XP (although as you said, it could be extrapolated).


I would point out at that in 3.5 it was limited to 20hd for skeletons and zombies(The base HD not the extra ones gained from size.) Draconomicon made an exception to this. So it is not hard fetched that it is indeed a hard cap.

Oh and undead master does not work that way. 5th level cleric can have at best CL 8 with animate dead(Varisian/mages tattoo and spell specilization) in regards to the HD limit.(So 32HD, and that costs 3 feats to pull off) Undead master only increases how many you can raise with one casting. It is horribly worded feat though, I have made the same mistake in the past. Well it is not so much the wording it self but what you would expect the feat to do as it really is never worth taking.


Timebomb wrote:

Well for one he would have to find a dead 18 HD creature to re-animate, any those aren't too common in civilized or uncivilized areas, dead or alive. Also remember that undead lose nearly all their nice abilities when animated.

He also would have to be careful where he brings his horde/scary undead super-soldier. Necromancers happen to have a stereotypically bad reputation, and hiding a colossal skeleton is easier said than done. He would have to suffer the Role Playing consequences in an RPG

As to what a Ice Linnorm would lose upon being animated, nearly everything. AC drops to 19 (7 dex, 10 NA, -8 size), DR drops to 5/bludgeoning, loses regeneration, loses SR, HP drops to 81, loses all skills and feats (except for improved initiative), loses all special abilites (yes, including the breath weapon), loses flight, BAB drops to 13, fort and ref become bad saves, claw attack damage increases to 2d8+str. That's all I think. In short bit becomes a pathetic shadow of it's former self (which his still terrifying to low level encounters, but much less so than and actual Ice Linnorm)

Basically, it is the difference between a CR 17, 18 HD Ice Linnorm and a CR 9, 18 HD T-rex.

That is the main balancing feature here- undeath causes a lot of the important, CR raising abilities to go 'poof'.

Silver Crusade

Gauss, if it were meant to go higher, they would have had it. As I see it, which I understand is my houserule, is that higher than 28 HD cannot be animated. It would really not be that difficult for them to have just added HD 29+ CR 10 XP xxxx. If it does not have a listed CR, it does not exist to be played as/fought. If you want to make the higher HD zombies, you could, but it would be houseruled in. To each their own, of course.

The Exchange Owner - D20 Hobbies

Black_Lantern wrote:
level 5 cleric ... a high-CR, 18 HD creature under his controls such as the Ice Linnorm?

Why did you give him a corpse?

If he killed the CR 18 in his party, then let him. If you dropped a corpse on him, it is the GM's fault.


One limitation with animate dead is that an animated corpse loses all class levels. You can throw creatures with low racial HD and lots of class levels at the PCs. This would raise the CR of an encounter without giving the necromancer access to powerful corpses. The downside is it requires some work giving class levels to every mob you throw at the PCs.


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Val'bryn2, your assumption is flawed. If the Devs had insufficient room to print (which they often do) they would cut it short at a point they consider "reasonable".

How many creatures in the Bestiary would exceed 28HD if turned into zombies?

Answer: Most Ancient and older Dragons, Tarn Linnorm, Black Scorpion, and the Tarrasque. Ie. a very short list and not reason enough for the Devs to extend the list.

Add to that that if they did want to limit what you can animate with Animate Dead all they had to do is add a phrase similar to what they used in the Skeleton.

Compare these two:

Bestiary p250 Skeleton wrote:
Hit Dice: A skeleton drops any HD gained from class levels and changes racial HD to d8s. Creatures without racial HD are treated as if they have 1 racial HD. If the creature has more than 20 Hit Dice, it can’t be made into a skeleton by the animate dead spell. A skeleton uses its Cha modifier (instead of its Con modifier) to determine bonus hit points.
Bestiary p288 Zombie wrote:
Hit Dice: Drop HD gained from class levels (minimum of 1) and change racial HD to d8s. Zombies gain a number of additional HD as noted on the following table.

No such statement is present in the zombie entry.

So, using your assumption that if the Devs did not put it there then it must not exist then we can assume that since the Devs did not put a limit there but they did put one in the Skeleton entry then there is no limit for zombies.

Silver Crusade

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I'm just not seeing any problem with my players raising zombies. They will likely suffer pretty awful RP consequences. If they want to become anti-social necromancers who are hated and feared, more power to them.

Having a few dozen HD of zombies supporting you just isn't that big a deal, especially as it will likely be the character's main schtick. Sure, if they happen to be near a dungeon it might be quite handy, but overland travel with a pack of zombies would likely be ... challenging.

The combat power of a pack of zombies is quite limited. Sure, they'll work great against slow, exposed foes who are also tactically stupid. Versus anything that is fast, uses defenses, or uses decent tactics, that zombie horde just won't be that useful.

As a player, I've got the most use out of zombies by having them lift and carry things. Disguised zombie(s) can carry a palanquin, or just carry your backpack. My experience is that, except for some novel situations, this is a more effective use for them than tactical combat.

As GM, you must now recognize that every monster corpse is now a valuable resource for the PCs. Act appropriately. There should be no need to nerf Animate Dead, as it already has built-in self-limiting factors.


Not sure your doing this correctly....


James Risner wrote:
Black_Lantern wrote:
level 5 cleric ... a high-CR, 18 HD creature under his controls such as the Ice Linnorm?

Why did you give him a corpse?

If he killed the CR 18 in his party, then let him. If you dropped a corpse on him, it is the GM's fault.

That's why it's a hypothetical question. I'm wondering how I should handle a character going around grave digging for strong skeleton corpses.

Magda Luckbender wrote:

At first, I was asking if there was any rules that I didn't know about, but now I want to know what would be fair for me to give a necromancer while not being too overpowered. Telling me that there are roleplaying repercussions doesn't help me balance his options and it assumes that every campaign setting will look at necromancers in the same light. I really want this necromancer character to work for him, but I'm not quite sure what I should initially allow him to raise in terms of HD.


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While there are ways to break it, generally anything the PCs can kill is not going to be an issue as an undead. There might be a handful of critters that slip past, hydra zombies still have pounce, (still not overpowered but it's the best I have right now, I'm sleepy) but as a general rule skeletons and zombies are too darned dumb, slow, and weak to be that terrifying.

Oh sure, there are things you can do with them, but most of those things are at least closely followed by Summon Monster and Summon monster doesn't cost money.

And let's say something goes wrong and you have the 3.5 Zombie Bulette (its AC was INSANE before the rule change) or something and it's proving to be totally broken.

Big undead get noticed, cause problems, disgust people, and often can't follow the party because the party goes underground or into a building.

Little undead are almost always weak, they don't get class levels after all.

Nobody likes undead, the only folk who do are the ones going to steal the undead becaue they're necromongers too.

In battle, the evil cleric can control undead on the PC's little toy.

One way or another, it's not that hard to yoink someone's undead pet, if it really comes to it you can just destroy it in combat. A properly-kitted damage-dealer of appropriate level can kill any zombie or skeleton you care to throw at him and once he gets it to zero it's gone for good. No resurrections for undead things. The party gets some loot and XP from that fight but the only corpse left is going to be near-useless on purpose.

Halfling paladin comes to mind.

Honestly, while I've often toyed with necromancer builds, I can't think of an undead minion that functions as anything but an ablative barrier of cold meat. When I think about what I'd want in mindless undead servants they are invariably tools more than weapons. Oh sure maybe I could put in a single zombie that plays Linebacker but mostly I'm going to be going for special movement types (a Roc named '747', an umber hulk named 'the mole machine', etc.) a cheap guidance chip/propulsion system for my 6-pack of gunpowder kegs (I think that's the light load for a medium skeleton, I'd have to check) or something else with similar utility focus.


Black_Lantern wrote:
Hypothetically there's a level 5 cleric with desecrate, animate dead, and the feat undead master. This causes the character to have a 36 HD animate dead pool. What stops the character, beyond me saying no, from raising a high-CR, 18 HD creature under his controls such as the Ice Linnorm? What does a skeleton Ice Linnorm lose from a regular Ice Linnorm? I know he won't find high CR HD things, but I'm still concerned this will become a problem in the future.

It is not a problem unless you give it to him, and the template says it loses supernatural abilities so he can't just raise some dead outsider and have access to its spell like abilities. However he can still raise a small army, but that cost gold, and it assumes the onyx are actually available, and they may not be.


I also forgot to add that another cleric can take control of your undead, an turn it against you, so raising something you can not defeat is a bad idea.

The Exchange Owner - D20 Hobbies

Black_Lantern wrote:
I'm wondering how I should handle a character going around grave digging for strong skeleton corpses.

Same way any reasonable GM does. When you detect they are doing that, say "You don't find one today, tomorrow or ever. Please stop trying."


I would say a reasonable GM, would work with it. But they do not come free(as in not without effort) particularly good corpses are kind of like magic items to a necromancer. You need them to function and they make you better at what you do. So they should be treated as such. Common races corpses are easy to come by and domesticated animals even easier than that. But anything special is actually very hard to come by and you will actually need to do some serious leg work for them.(Assuming you can't get by with just what you and your party kills.)

A slight tangent there, once create undead and as such skeleton champion comes online things change as class levels are not lost. That being said those do not start off as under your control.


Bigger Club wrote:

I would say a reasonable GM, would work with it. But they do not come free(as in not without effort) particularly good corpses are kind of like magic items to a necromancer. You need them to function and they make you better at what you do. So they should be treated as such. Common races corpses are easy to come by and domesticated animals even easier than that. But anything special is actually very hard to come by and you will actually need to do some serious leg work for them.(Assuming you can't get by with just what you and your party kills.)

A slight tangent there, once create undead and as such skeleton champion comes online things change as class levels are not lost. That being said those do not start off as under your control.

Yeah, intelligent undead are somewhat self-regulating. Not to mention it's enslavement, which carries various other alignment and role-play related "issues."

One role-play setup I liked for a Necromancer with a conscience (I'm bad at playing straight evil) was a cleric based on an old Dragon Magazine write-up for Wee Jas. Basically animating the dead isn't forbidden, but you have strict rules you have to follow on how you obtain the bodies, how long you can keep them animated before you have to put them "back to rest," and all the responsibilities revolving around cleaning up after/controlling your undead property. Stealing a corpse from a grave is illegal, buying one from surviving family members is fine. Claiming a corpse as "punishment" for their crime of trying to murder you is fine, but only if they started it. Animating a dead lion is fine because it's an animal, animating a dead dragon is not because it was a person.

But this is all rather tangential...

Silver Crusade

My party currently is enjoying the bloody skeletal assistance of a bloody skeleton redcap (created in a temple's desecration aura).

Given that undead apparently retain their extraordinaries, he's still got his lovely kick, his 60ft land speed, and his capabilities for using weapons a size larger then himself.

And yes, he tried to kill the party.

The party necromancer, a LN sort, has decided that he resurrects those who try to murder him as a sort of penance to his god.

Frankly, from a DM perspective, I prefer him having one big scary pet as opposed to a collection of 'zombie go do this, zombie go do that' horde nonsense.

In general, having a necromancer around means that you need to watch your 'post-mortem' story telling though, especially with larger corpses.


Spook205 wrote:
Frankly, from a DM perspective, I prefer him having one big scary pet as opposed to a collection of 'zombie go do this, zombie go do that' horde nonsense.

Also an issue for summoned monsters, animal companions, pets, sidekicks, and constructs.

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