Animate Dead from magic items


Rules Questions


If one have magic item that can cast Animate Dead like scroll or Staff of Dark Flame, the undead controlled are bound to a person casting the spell, right?

This means if i give the staff and an UMD Headband of Vast Intelligence to people in turns, they can be generals of my undead army, each controlling up to 32 HD of undead until they betray me?


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Yes, the person using the item is considered the caster unless there's a specific or unusual item or property.

In the case of a headband of vast intelligence (UMD) and a staff of dark flame, assuming the wielder made a UMD check to use the staff, the could animate dead and those skeletons or zombies would be under their control.

Things to note would be that animate dead allows control of up to twice caster level (your example seems to indicate four times, assuming CL 8 staff). For a staff of dark flame, this is CL 8 or 16 HD of undead (other staffs with that spell might be higher CL). A staff, it does allow a wielder to use their CL or other benefits if they are better, so a higher level caster might get more when using it. In the case of a scroll, you're usually stuck with its created CL.

You could create more undead, but excess would be uncontrolled. If you had another way to control them, you could them use that. A cleric's Command Undead feat, for example, which would grant you a separate pool of undead to command (up to cleric level in HD).


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Pizza Lord wrote:

Yes, the person using the item is considered the caster unless there's a specific or unusual item or property.

In the case of a headband of vast intelligence (UMD) and a staff of dark flame, assuming the wielder made a UMD check to use the staff, the could animate dead and those skeletons or zombies would be under their control.

Things to note would be that animate dead allows control of up to twice caster level (your example seems to indicate four times, assuming CL 8 staff). For a staff of dark flame, this is CL 8 or 16 HD of undead (other staffs with that spell might be higher CL). A staff, it does allow a wielder to use their CL or other benefits if they are better, so a higher level caster might get more when using it. In the case of a scroll, you're usually stuck with its created CL.

You could create more undead, but excess would be uncontrolled. If you had another way to control them, you could them use that. A cleric's Command Undead feat, for example, which would grant you a separate pool of undead to command (up to cleric level in HD).

I think its 2HD/CL per casting limit, 4HD/CL absolute limit. And desecrate doubles the casting one.

Thanks for the Staff tip, i forgot you can substitute your level.


Yes, you're right. twice your CL per casting to create them. No more than 4 HD per CL being commanded at once. I misread it.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

You have a problem with the caster level.

Animate dead wrote:
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.

The staff has a caster level, not the character (unless he is a caster). So he animate his 16 HD of undead, then they check his caster level (not that of the staff). Caster level = 0, controlled undead limit = 0.

Result 16 HD of uncontrolled undead.

I think that there are items that have a special provision and that allow you to control a specific number of HD of undead (maybe they were in some other edition of the game), but then the limit is linked to the item, and passing the item around don't change it.


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Diego Rossi wrote:
The staff has a caster level, not the character (unless he is a caster). So he animate his 16 HD of undead, then they check his caster level (not that of the staff). Caster level = 0, controlled undead limit = 0.

I don't agree with this analysis.

The caster level requirement for control is in the text of, and part of, the spell being cast. It would certainly use the caster level at that time. it 'checks' during casting, and makes no mention of checking at any other time, so if your caster level is good for the casting, you are good until you cast the spell again I believe.

Scarab Sages

Dave Justus wrote:
Diego Rossi wrote:
The staff has a caster level, not the character (unless he is a caster). So he animate his 16 HD of undead, then they check his caster level (not that of the staff). Caster level = 0, controlled undead limit = 0.

I don't agree with this analysis.

The caster level requirement for control is in the text of, and part of, the spell being cast. It would certainly use the caster level at that time. it 'checks' during casting, and makes no mention of checking at any other time, so if your caster level is good for the casting, you are good until you cast the spell again I believe.

Either you;

A) Have a full personal pool(10CL = 40HD of undead) and cast from an item with 5CL. Then you suddenly lose control of 20HD of undead before even checking how many HD you animated. As the rules state you check 'your' CL[the item's in this case] before seeing how many more HD you can control before losing control.

B) Have a full personal pool(10cl = 40HD of undead) and cast from an item with 5cl and suddenly gain 20HD of undead on top of the 40HD since you now have two pools.

C) Have a full personal pool and trade out HD for HD of controlled undead for newly animated undead when you use an item.

Also, your HD pool is checked at all times. If you gain a negative level and thus lose CL, you should then lose from your control pool.

The biggest problem with what I believe is the best answer, c, is that a non-caster can not control undead. At least not without some additional rules element allowing an HD control pool. I prefer to use HD instead of CL for this, though I haven't used this rule enough to decide if I'm happy with it or not.

Another answer is to only allow a temporary, non-stacking, pool up to the CL of the item used for non-casters. Thus, if you cast again you lose control of all undead previously controlled for the newly animated undead.


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Lorewalker wrote:

Also, your HD pool is checked at all times. If you gain a negative level and thus lose CL, you should then lose from your control pool.

Where do you get this from? It isn't a totally unreasonable assumption, but the text of the spell says:

"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."

The 'exceed' clause seems directly connected to and referencing 'created' and related to the casting of the spell.

Scarab Sages

If you control more than 4 HD worth of undead creatures per caster level, what do you do? You add any new creatures to the pool(in this case, 0) and the excess undead become uncontrolled.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

Note that the spell check the character caster level to see how much undead can be controlled, not the item CL.
If you use a wand of Animate death with a CL of 5 and you are a 12 level cleric, what is your limit?
it is 48 HD and adding another 10 HD of undead to the 30 HD you already control won't generate any problem, or it is 20 as you are using a wand with a CL of 5, and you lose 20 HD of undead?

The text is clear: "No matter how many times you use this spell, however, you can control only 4 HD worth of undead creatures per caster level." That check don't control the CL of the method you used now. It check your character caster level and his overall ability to control undead.


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Oh hey, it's that old argument about Animate Dead and caster level. The short answer is this: expect table variation.

The discussion here is only scratching the surface, by the way. For instance, if you prefer the "use the spell's CL" interpretation, what happens if you cast a CL 7 Wizard scroll then a CL 5 Cleric scroll? There are at least three perfectly reasonable answers. And if you prefer the "use the character's caster level" then what happens when a 7th level Sorcerer UMD's a cleric's scroll of Animate Dead? Do you use his Sorcerer caster level, or his non-existent Cleric caster level? And more generally, is all caster level the same or does it count separately? This is important for Mystic Theurges, which usually do have the ability to cast animate dead in both the arcane and divine version, and a lot of people (myself included) believe the caps count separately.

The edge cases around animate dead are quite messy, and GM's just need to pick a ruling and stick with it for their own table.


Diego Rossi wrote:
I think that there are items that have a special provision and that allow you to control a specific number of HD of undead (maybe they were in some other edition of the game), but then the limit is linked to the item, and passing the item around don't change it.

I know about Bone Beads, 8 HD of undead, not as good but less shamaning the rules.

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