Tactics for the Mindless Undead


Rules Questions

Liberty's Edge

As a GM, if I have mindless undead in a dungeon, can I justify the use of ANY tactics at all? Can mindless undead try to flank? Can they fight defensively? Can they use full-withdrawal? Can they disarm? etc.

Can they use ANY sort of tactics other than swinging a sword, clawing, or biting?

I'd appreciate any rules references on this you could give me. I've been coming up empty.

Thanks.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

You ever see a zombie movie? How they just walk off cliffs because there are brains on the other side?

That's mindless undead. It doesn't get too sophisticated.

Liberty's Edge

I'd call those "uncontrolled" undead.

Mindless undead can still be given instructions, can't they?

See the Animate Dead spell description below (bold emphasis mine)

---
This spell turns corpses into undead skeletons or zombies that obey your spoken commands.

The undead can be made to follow you, or they can be made to remain in an area and attack any creature (or just a specific kind of creature) entering the place. They remain animated until they are destroyed. A destroyed skeleton or zombie can't be animated again...

The undead you create remain under your control indefinitely. No matter how many times you use this spell, however, you can control only 4 HD worth of undead creatures per caster level. If you exceed this number, all the newly created creatures fall under your control, and any excess undead from previous castings become uncontrolled. You choose which creatures are released. Undead you control through the Command Undead feat do not count toward this limit...


Well, with a complete lack of an Intelligence score, I would be cautious about how detailed such orders can be.

Telling to them to "kill anyone who comes into the castle" would be fine, but "Disarm anyone entering the castle, then flank them so I can sneak attack" seems like a bit much.

To each his own though. if you wanna have your "mindless" undead a little more mindful, go right ahead.

Liberty's Edge

DominusMegadeus wrote:

Well, with a complete lack of an Intelligence score, I would be cautious about how detailed such orders can be.

Telling to them to "kill anyone who comes into the castle" would be fine, but "Disarm anyone entering the castle, then flank them so I can sneak attack" seems like a bit much.

To each his own though. if you wanna have your "mindless" undead a little more mindful, go right ahead.

I largely agree with you.

The problem for me becomes this: swinging a sword and defending territory is pretty sophisticated for a creature with no intelligence. Is it really that much more sophisticated to expect them to defend themselves while attacking?

I mean...if a Zombie might grapple (that is: use a combat maneuver) an intruder, couldn't I expect a zombie to use other combat maneuvers?

The thing about Mindless Undead is, they have no skills and no feats...

Okay: then shouldn't they be able to use everything else in the combat book, so long as they don't require skills or feats?


bestiary wrote:
Skeletons are the animated bones of the dead, brought to unlife through foul magic. While most skeletons are mindless automatons, they still possess an evil cunning imparted to them by their animating force—a cunning that allows them to wield weapons and wear armor.

Skeletons have an evil cunning. That means they should be as good as wolves at tactics. So they should be able to flank and fight defensibly.

Some 'tactics' like aid another can be described as the effect of the undead swarming you, so that makes sense to me too.

I don't imagine mindless undead would try to do things like grappling or disarming most of the time though. That's fine though because they have no feats to make it work.

The dead don't run, but they might use the withdraw action to get closer to a squishier character.


Kind of a DM/story dependant thing, I guess.

The devs may or may not comment on this if you asked in one of the Ask threads, but I don't think a reasonable player will be too upset if you're consistent with what mindless undead can accomplish under specific orders.

Liberty's Edge

Knight Magenta wrote:
bestiary wrote:
Skeletons are the animated bones of the dead, brought to unlife through foul magic. While most skeletons are mindless automatons, they still possess an evil cunning imparted to them by their animating force—a cunning that allows them to wield weapons and wear armor.

Skeletons have an evil cunning. That means they should be as good as wolves at tactics. So they should be able to flank and fight defensibly.

Some 'tactics' like aid another can be described as the effect of the undead swarming you, so that makes sense to me too.

I don't imagine mindless undead would try to do things like grappling or disarming most of the time though. That's fine though because they have no feats to make it work.

The dead don't run, but they might use the withdraw action to get closer to a squishier character.

Good points.

The thing is: standard combat maneuvers don't require feats or skills to perform. :)

And wouldn't Zombies grapple? I could certainly imagine a zombie piling-on and pinning an opponent while trying to eat them.

Dark Archive

Well, the easiest way, IMO, is to make their actions random. Assign a number to the PCs and roll to see whom it will attack. Wither it tries to grapple or naturally attack is up to you, or you can flip a coin. Now, if they are being commanded by something of intelligence, you can have more tactics than simple dice rolls.

Liberty's Edge

See, here's the thing: the only rules reference I can find for "mindless undead" is here:

http://paizo.com/pathfinderRPG/prd/monsters/creatureTypes.html

Where it says: (bold emphasis, mine)

Skill points equal to 4 + Int modifier (minimum 1) per Hit Die.
Many undead, however, are mindless and gain no skill points or feats. The following are class skills for undead: Climb, Disguise, Fly, Intimidate, Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (religion), Perception, Sense Motive, Spellcraft, and Stealth.

So a few things here:

Mindless means no skill points or feats. That seems to be the definition.

Edit: I don't think class skills apply to mindless undead since neither the Skeleton nor zombie entries have any listed skills.


I would say no. They are worse than animals. At least animals have some instincts. Mindless undead don't even have those. They attack in straight lines without regard for tactics and continue attacking until destroyed or dropping their opponent.

However, a clever creator can position them or arrange the room in such a way so as to raise the chances that the undead will attack in a strategic manner.

For example, one of my favorite traps is something I call "Opposing Skeletons in the Closets". A character who walks into the center of the room steps on a pressure plate that opens closets on her left and right that have skeletons in them. When the skeletons attack, they do so in a straight line towards the character in the center, most likely flanking her.

Liberty's Edge

darth_borehd wrote:

I would say no. They are worse than animals. At least animals have some instincts. Mindless undead don't even have those. They attack in straight lines without regard for tactics and continue attacking until destroyed or dropping their opponent.

However, a clever creator can position them or arrange the room in such a way so as to raise the chances that the undead will attack in a strategic manner.

For example, one of my favorite traps is something I call "Opposing Skeletons in the Closets". A character who walks into the center of the room steps on a pressure plate that opens closets on her left and right that have skeletons in them. When the skeletons attack, they do so in a straight line towards the character in the center, most likely flanking her.

I don't think undead are worse than animals. They can be given specific instructions and will follow them to the letter.

I think you're referring to "uncontrolled undead" as mentioned in the "Animate Dead" spell description.

BTW: Like the idea of the undead sandwich!

Liberty's Edge

When I DM,mindless undead use no tactics. They simply attack the nearest living creature unless they have previously been given a simple command to do otherwise. If there are more than one living creature equidistant, they will randomly attack those nearest. They will continue to attack their target until the target is slain,ignoring attacks on them by other PC's.If the undead are numerous and all or many have the same PC target, they may inadvertently gain flanking as they surround their target.

Liberty's Edge

Martin Kauffman 530 wrote:
When I DM,mindless undead use no tactics. They simply attack the nearest living creature unless they have previously been given a simple command to do otherwise. If there are more than one living creature equidistant, they will randomly attack those nearest. They will continue to attack their target until the target is slain,ignoring attacks on them by other PC's.If the undead are numerous and all or many have the same PC target, they may inadvertently gain flanking as they surround their target.

Makes sense to me. But the question remains: could your undead fight defensively, aid another, full-withdraw, grapple etc...

If not, why not? If they can swing a sword (a fairly sophisticated act) surely they can parry a blow etc.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

'Evil cunning' is one of the worst bits of meaningless fluff that has ever been written. It's useless and worse, misleading. It pops up in so many monster entries without need.

Liberty's Edge

Mindless undead have only an overwhelming hatred of, and/or hunger for, the living . They exist only to kill and do not have the mind for sophisticated tactics. They are largely unconcerned with any defensive tactics, as their hunger is so great. They are not fearful of dying as they have already died. They do not plan or cooperate with one another as each ones own hatred and hunger make each one want to kill or feed so badly as to preclude any cooperation.

Liberty's Edge

Here's the thing though...

1) Skeletons have CMB scores, implying they might use combat maneuvers.

2) If a mindless undead is ordered by a necromancer to "destroy all living beings that enter this hall". Okay...go nuts! But what if the necromancer said, "Defend this hallway. Bar entry to all who approach"...can the skeleton now use defensive fighting techniques?

3) "Mindless" occurs in other monster descriptions including plants,ooze, vermin, and constructs. The definition is identical: "...mindless and gain no skill points or feats."

But surely we'd expect say, plants, to grapple. And constructs to maybe sunder or disarm...


3 people marked this as a favorite.

Mindless Undead Tactical Handbook

Liberty's Edge

Kazaan wrote:
Mindless Undead Tactical Handbook

Lol.

But what about "The necromancer's guide to undead tactical handbook"?


Silverhand wrote:

Here's the thing though...

1) Skeletons have CMD and CMB scores. Implying they might use combat maneuvers.

I'm pretty sure the statblock format requires everything to have CMB and CMD scores. Things that cannot move at all still have CMB and CMD.

Quote:


2) If a mindless undead is ordered by a necromancer to "destroy all living beings that enter this hall". Okay...go nuts! But what if the necromancer said, "Defend this hallway. Bar entry to all who approach"...can the skeleton now use defensive fighting techniques?

Here's how I might have a skeleton interpret these commands.

Destroy all living beings that enter this hall: Skeleton waits idly in hall until a living being enters, then attacks the nearest creature until it is no longer able to (creature is dead, creature has evaded skeleton's senses, etc.).

Defend this hallway. Bar entry to all who approach: Skeleton waits idly at the end of the hallway, and attacks creatures closest to the end rather than closest to the skeleton. Even that might be a tad too sophisticated for some GMs.

Quote:

3) Mindless occurs in other monster descriptions including plants,ooze, vermin, and constructs. The definition is identical: "mindless and gain no skill points or feats."

But surely we'd expect say, plants, to grapple. And constructs to maybe sunder or disarm...

Plants are a bit ambiguous since a lot of them have a grapple design to them. Certainly, as a GM you could say that it is their mindless nature to just grab and kill the nearest target over and over until it can't do anything else.

Mindless constructs, unless ordered directly (I'd say requiring orders during the battle, preprogrammed tactics would not be allowed), never use sunder or disarm unless it is stated in their creature entry.

Liberty's Edge

i appreciate the pov, but I really need the rules citations.

Here's the thing:
The rules define mindless as no skill points or feats. Also, not affected by mind affecting spells etc. That's that.

all semantics aside, it boils down to a simple question: can skeletons 5-foot step? It's a simple, defensive technique, rules equivalent to any basic move or combat rule.

Please provide rules citation for clarity's sake.

Thanks!


1 person marked this as a favorite.

There aren't any rules. If you disagree with anything said here then feel free to run it differently.

Mindless undead have no sense of self preservation, so withdrawing and fighting defensively makes absolutely no sense.

5' step is fine, as long as it just to follow up to the closest target. It will not 5' step to a tactically better position (out of flank for instance)

I cannot envision any co-operation with mindful undead other than incidental.

Neither does any action that would provide a tactical advantage and the action taken to provide that tactical advantage.

Scripting zombies to try to grapple no matter what, I don't have a problem with. Giving them any kind of decision tree is completely antithetical to me.

If your zombies are instructed to disarm or sunder they will continue to try to do so, even if there isn't anything to disarm or sunder, until commanded to do otherwise. No decision trees.

This is why most mindless undead are just told to hit it until it stops moving.

Liberty's Edge

There must be some Rules?

5 foot step is tactical vs just moving 5 feet.

I know the conventional wisdom here, but I'm seeking specific rules citations.
Thank you.


dragonhunterq wrote:

There aren't any rules.

Why must there be rules?

Are you the GM, or has your GM made a ruling you disagree with? If it's the former, no problem run them how you want. if it's the latter bringing it here won't help, talk it out with them.

Liberty's Edge

The reason I'm looking for rules is because I want consistency from game to game. Further, I play a lot of PFS so I want to GM correctly.

Lastly, I find the conventional wisdom in d&d/pathfinder is often wrong (based on word of mouth and "my GM always used to..." Sort of stories.

In short: the rules are highly specific, and worthy of being fully understood. I want to understand the intent and the application based on the rules as written. I can interpret after I know the facts, not before.


2 people marked this as a favorite.

THERE ARE NO RULES

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2015 Top 16, RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16

You won't find anything about mindless undead tactics in the rules. They have no Intelligence score. Fight accordingly as you interpret that; expect table variation.

Liberty's Edge

Umbral Reaver wrote:
THERE ARE NO RULES

Well...if there are no rules, why are folks so sure their opinion is the right one? ;)

Liberty's Edge

Charlie Bell wrote:
You won't find anything about mindless undead tactics in the rules. They have no Intelligence score. Fight accordingly as you interpret that; expect table variation.

I appreciate the POV.

If a creature with no intelligence score can use a weapon in its stat block then there's every reason to believe it is capable of combat, using all the non-skill and non-feat related combat rules available. In short: barring the existence of specific rules for mindless undead, all standard rules therefore apply.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

I've always treated them as programed corpse-y constructs. They act according to their programming and at worst they may need to be trained to adequately program them. What they can't do is communicate or take the orders of one other than their controler


Silverhand wrote:
Well...if there are no rules, why are folks so sure their opinion is the right one? ;)

You ask how undead should act. People say how undead should act in their interpretation. You refuse the answers given.

What else do you want?


Umbral Reaver wrote:
Silverhand wrote:
Well...if there are no rules, why are folks so sure their opinion is the right one? ;)

You ask how undead should act. People say how undead should act in their interpretation. You refuse the answers given.

What else do you want?

Everyone to agree with him! :D


1 person marked this as a favorite.

If you want smart mindless undead, add the responsible necromancer to the battle and let him utter short commands like 'two steps to the right!' or 'all go for the gnome!'. In case the players previously encountered stupid mindless undead (without leader), they likely will feel it's consistent and enjoy it. You will get bonus points for their chance to shoot the nervous necromancer.

That said, stupid mindless undead have their place. Players can feel smart when they trick them. And when they pull it well, they can beat a far superior number of undead, which makes the encounter even more rewarding. There are enough other smart opponents out there - why not make mindless undead an interesting diversion?

Liberty's Edge

The Guy With A Face wrote:
Umbral Reaver wrote:
Silverhand wrote:
Well...if there are no rules, why are folks so sure their opinion is the right one? ;)

You ask how undead should act. People say how undead should act in their interpretation. You refuse the answers given.

What else do you want?

Everyone to agree with him! :D

That's unfair. I have no horse in this race. In my initial post, I asked for rules reference, not opinions.

Although I deeply appreciate the opinions of others, I'm hoping for something more concrete.

So, logically: if there are no specific rules, then general rules must function.

The only specific rules I can find for mindless undead are: no skill points, no feats, not affected by mind affecting spells. That's it.

As for refusing the answers given: I refer to my initial post in this thread. I asked specifically for rules references. I'm not being unreasonable. I'm being consistent. As I said, I do appreciate the opinions offered.

Liberty's Edge

SheepishEidolon wrote:

If you want smart mindless undead, add the responsible necromancer to the battle and let him utter short commands like 'two steps to the right!' or 'all go for the gnome!'. In case the players previously encountered stupid mindless undead (without leader), they likely will feel it's consistent and enjoy it. You will get bonus points for their chance to shoot the nervous necromancer.

That said, stupid mindless undead have their place. Players can feel smart when they trick them. And when they pull it well, they can beat a far superior number of undead, which makes the encounter even more rewarding. There are enough other smart opponents out there - why not make mindless undead an interesting diversion?

I love the idea of a necromancer calling the shots. And I like the idea of having wholly reliant undead soldiers doing as bidden on a round-by-round basis.

That said, I don't think I'm asking for "smart" mindless undead. I don't have any preference. I just want to know if there's a clear ruling on what mindless really means in combat.

I'll likely end up using a mix of opinions/strategies offered on this thread. :) Thank you.


There are no rules for tactics anywhere though, for anyone.
As DM I will not have rhinos attack in the same way as wolves or big cats. Wolves will flank/trip but won't grapple, rhinos will charge but will neither flank or trip, big cats will grapple. There are no rules telling me that.
Mindless critters will act differently depending on what they are and what instructions they have, it is impossible to come up with a universal rule for what they will and will not do with a reasonable word count.
Some things are left to the GM for a reason.

(confession time, I am just in the last year or so, from since 3rd edition started, learning to not play animals as genius level tacticians)


Silverhand wrote:

That's unfair. I have no horse in this race. In my initial post, I asked for rules reference, not opinions.

Although I deeply appreciate the opinions of others, I'm hoping for something more concrete.

So, logically: if there are no specific rules, then general rules must function.

The only specific rules I can find for mindless undead are: no skill points, no feats, not affected by mind affecting spells. That's it.

As for refusing the answers given: I refer to my initial post in this thread. I asked specifically for rules references. I'm not being unreasonable. I'm being consistent. As I said, I do appreciate the opinions offered.

Darn it, you got me there!

Shadow Lodge Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8

Here's my two cents:

Per the rules, Intelligence governs how well a creature learns and reasons.

Mindless creatures have no intelligence score.

Therefore, mindless creatures are incapable of learning and reasoning.

That should inform their tactics. Basically, they can't plan (which requires reason) and they can't adapt (which requires learning).

That doesn't preclude using combat maneuvers per se, but it does limit their applicability.

A skeleton ordered to destroy intruders should not attempt to trip, even though tripping enemies makes them easier to destroy, because that involves planning ahead to next round. Tripping doesn't destroy the enemy now, and the skeleton can't think ahead to next round when the enemy will be easier to destroy, therefore tripping is off the table.

However, if ordered to keep people from passing through a hallway, tripping might be on the table. It directly contributes to fulfilling the skeleton's orders.

Yet, that same skeleton cannot learn. So even if tripping proves insufficient to keep enemies from passing through (maybe they have beastly CMDs), the skeleton will keep trying.

Liberty's Edge

dragonhunterq wrote:

There are no rules for tactics anywhere though, for anyone.

As DM I will not have rhinos attack in the same way as wolves or big cats. Wolves will flank/trip but won't grapple, rhinos will charge but will neither flank or trip, big cats will grapple. There are no rules telling me that.
Mindless critters will act differently depending on what they are and what instructions they have, it is impossible to come up with a universal rule for what they will and will not do with a reasonable word count.
Some things are left to the GM for a reason.

(confession time, I am just in the last year or so, from since 3rd edition started, learning to not play animals as genius level tacticians)

Excellent point.

My response here is:

a) there's good reason to have different animal species fight using different tactics. Rhino abilities include powerful charge and gore, whereas a big cat (like a lion) has pounce and rake. Although the tactics aren't explicitly stated, the abilities tell the GM how to optimize the combat.

b) I'm sure you've seen the old claymation fighting skeletons, say from Jason and the Argonauts. The skeletons are hardly master tacticians...but they do use their shield.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOZK4MiIMZM

Now, am I saying that Pathfinder skeletons have to act like claymation skeletons? No...just saying basic combat should be assumed for skeletons when the undead entry says that skeletons are proficient with weapons and armour they have in their stat blocks. If they're proficient...then they know how to use the equipment given. Could that include using a shield if it was given a shield? Indeed.

"Undead are proficient with shields if they are proficient with any form of armor."

Paizo Employee Pathfinder Society Lead Developer

5 people marked this as a favorite.

Mindless undead are statistically equivalent to vermin and would exhibit roughly the same level of tactical acumen, minus much of an arthropod's self-preservation. There is no hard and fast rule reference that I can think to provide you.

When I think about how zombies might behave in a group, I think about ants. Individually, an ant is not a terribly savvy combatant. It bites what it can, and when possible, it tends (whether by strategy or by trial and error) to aim for joints and other weak points (BAB). It intuitively understands how its body works (usually no penalty to movement and little penalty to Dexterity), and although it tends to move directly, its motor abilities and cognizance of its surroundings is sufficient to help it avoid utterly foolhardy strategies (so tends to move in straight lines but could probably 5-foot step with no trouble).

Ants can accomplish some astonishing feats of group "intelligence," such as reinforcing pheromone trails and dismantling tough opponents by biting until they find the right solution (i.e. weak spot). If there were a bunch of zombies, some might end up flanking largely by accident or by drive to surround a foe—not because of any deep tactical choice. A zombie might occasionally even try to trip or disarm a foe, but again, that would largely be an expression of trial and error—not because it is tactically the "right" choice. The cause and effect calculation of "trip => prone => easier to maul" probably doesn't even translate in their empty headspace, though a prone target might still attract their attention in some instinctive way.

As a GM, I recommend just running as honest of a mindless encounter as you can. The occasional combat maneuver is probably fine, but there shouldn't be any greater plan behind it. The occasional flank or 5-foot step by accident rarely hurts, but there shouldn't be a building strategy to it (just a little variety). As others point out above, there are lots of common guidelines for mindless undead, and so long as your zombies fall in a certain range of "mindlessness," I doubt anyone will hold it against you.

Liberty's Edge

John Compton wrote:

Mindless undead are statistically equivalent to vermin and would exhibit roughly the same level of tactical acumen, minus much of an arthropod's self-preservation. There is no hard and fast rule reference that I can think to provide you.

When I think about how zombies might behave in a group, I think about ants. Individually, an ant is not a terribly savvy combatant. It bites what it can, and when possible, it tends (whether by strategy or by trial and error) to aim for joints and other weak points (BAB). It intuitively understands how its body works (usually no penalty to movement and little penalty to Dexterity), and although it tends to move directly, its motor abilities and cognizance of its surroundings is sufficient to help it avoid utterly foolhardy strategies (so tends to move in straight lines but could probably 5-foot step with no trouble).

Ants can accomplish some astonishing feats of group "intelligence," such as reinforcing pheromone trails and dismantling tough opponents by biting until they find the right solution (i.e. weak spot). If there were a bunch of zombies, some might end up flanking largely by accident or by drive to surround a foe—not because of any deep tactical choice. A zombie might occasionally even try to trip or disarm a foe, but again, that would largely be an expression of trial and error—not because it is tactically the "right" choice. The cause and effect calculation of "trip => prone => easier to maul" probably doesn't even translate in their empty headspace, though a prone target might still attract their attention in some instinctive way.

As a GM, I recommend just running as honest of a mindless encounter as you can. The occasional combat maneuver is probably fine, but there shouldn't be any greater plan behind it. The occasional flank or 5-foot step by accident rarely hurts, but there shouldn't be a building strategy to it (just a little variety). As others point out above, there are lots of common guidelines for mindless...

Thank you for this. I appreciate you taking the time to respond. This balanced approach to "mindless undead" will help guide my use of such creatures in combat.

Grand Lodge

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Mindless, uncontrolled? Move forward and attack, with a low chance of deviating from their first target until dead.

Mindless, controlled by something intelligent that's in the same room? They'll fight as tactically as the character controlling them.

Mindless, controlled by an absentee intelligence? They'll obey any standing instructions, to the point of even when it's detrimental to do so.

That's how I run it typically.

Liberty's Edge

Benchak the Nightstalker wrote:

Here's my two cents:

Per the rules, Intelligence governs how well a creature learns and reasons.

Mindless creatures have no intelligence score.

Therefore, mindless creatures are incapable of learning and reasoning.

That should inform their tactics. Basically, they can't plan (which requires reason) and they can't adapt (which requires learning).

That doesn't preclude using combat maneuvers per se, but it does limit their applicability.

A skeleton ordered to destroy intruders should not attempt to trip, even though tripping enemies makes them easier to destroy, because that involves planning ahead to next round. Tripping doesn't destroy the enemy now, and the skeleton can't think ahead to next round when the enemy will be easier to destroy, therefore tripping is off the table.

However, if ordered to keep people from passing through a hallway, tripping might be on the table. It directly contributes to fulfilling the skeleton's orders.

Yet, that same skeleton cannot learn. So even if tripping proves insufficient to keep enemies from passing through (maybe they have beastly CMDs), the skeleton will keep trying.

Excellent points here. Thank you. I hadn't considered how combat maneuver applicability could be based on instructions given.

Community / Forums / Pathfinder / Pathfinder First Edition / Rules Questions / Tactics for the Mindless Undead All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.