Undead Are Our Friends

Back when I ran a D&D game with the group that first got me started playing, we had this one fellow who was a huge fan of undead. Originally he was disappointed at being roped into cleric, until he realised the benefits of playing “chaotic neutral”. In the long run, his strategy of undead use proved to be so popular, I’m almost surprised to find spellcasters without their own skeletal minions.

Starting from level 1, a cleric who channels negative energy - this does not have to be an evil cleric, merely a nongood one - can begin to command undead. Should you be lucky enough to encounter any, you can maintain control indefinitely over up to two human zombies or three human skeletons, or similar. Any undead with half your hit dice is vulnerable to control, and at any given time you can hold a total equal to your hit dice. However, the benefit of commanding undead is limited as you rise in level. As you rise in power relative to your minions, they become increasingly fragile and replacements are hard to find.

Luckily, there’s another option. At level 5 for a cleric, or level 7 for a wizard, our budding evil overlord gains access to animate dead, a handy spell that lets you create your own skeletons and zombies. Not only that, but you can create undead worth twice your caster level (instead of half) and automatically control 4HD per caster level indefinitely, on top of any undead you command. This spell is the mainstay of any undead user. At level 5 you can create a 10HD ettin skeletons and control two such creatures, and at level 9 some 17HD cloud giant skeletons. Its drawbacks are the cost and the level cap - 25gp per HD non-refundable, and skeletons/zombies are limited to 20HD.

The next spell up is create undead, available from level 11 for both cleric and wizard, allowing you to create ghouls, ghasts, mummies and mohrgs. However, this spell has two major drawbacks. One, it costs twice as much as animate dead - 50gp per HD. Second, you have to control the creature yourself by commanding undead. In other words, at 11th level you can control five ghouls, at 12 three ghasts, at 16th a single mummy, and actually controlling the mohrg you can make at level 18 is out of the question. At this point, you’re almost better sticking with animate dead.

Level 15 sees create greater undead, which lets you create a shadow, wraith, spectre or devourer. Although you won’t be powerful enough to command the devourer before level 24, the incorporeal undead you can create here are good value for money since they’re immune to many opponents’ attacks. A fifteenth level cleric can spend 750gp - a third of one percent of his total wealth - on three Strength-draining incorporeal shadows, while a 20th level cleric can own two level-draining spectres and one Con-draining wraith. Not exactly epic level power, but it fills up what at high level are useless command undead slots.

It may seem very cleric-biased here, but thankfully the sorcerer and wizard still have a few tricks up their sleeve. The second-level spell command undead gives you control over a single undead for one day per level, making it friendly to you - you can generally count on them as an ally for the rest of the adventure. However, undead tend to have high Will saves, and you don’t control them outright. Seventh level sees a spell which does afford you complete control for a shorter duration, control undead. It also affects multiple targets, with a hit dice cap of twice your level.

However, both command undead and control undead rely on you finding undead creatures. Although you can create them with create undead, you are at best spending a lot of gold pieces to create and control an undead for a single adventure, whereas a careful cleric can keep control of his own minions indefinitely.

In any case, for an additional investment it’s often wise to equip your undead with anything they’re able to use. Often you’ll find wondrous items that are only going to sit in a bag of holding until you get back to town, and some undead (skeleton and zombie warriors included) are proficient with weapons and armour. Even when they’re not, a full-plate clad human commoner zombie with a large shield can still act as an AC21 DR5 meat shield, or at worst a moveable barrier. Finally, you can always try to take a vampire cohort with the Leadership feat, and, if your DM is as malleable as I was back then, start building toward lichdom yourself.


Comments (10)

Zaratustra (November 8th, 2007)

Also, if you can -create- undead cheaply but not -control- them, consider dropping them into the enemy field like bombs of terror.

Jonathan Drain (November 8th, 2007)

Excellent point, Zara. A drawback is that the more powerful spells take a while to cast, and they’re expensive enough that you can’t afford to waste one by having him suicide-attack to weaken the enemy. However, selective and cautious use can make this undead creation very feasible.

Also, I just realise I forgot to account for turn resistance, meaning you need to be slightly higher level to have as many undead. Still, the theory stands.

Doom Monkey (November 12th, 2007)

read the libris mortis for more details. also the complete mage outlines the spellcaster idea.

ChattyDm (November 15th, 2007)

Ahhhh, Libris Mortis! This is such a cool sourcebook!

Xanthus (November 18th, 2007)

Is there any good way to control or use the undead from Create or Greater create? I looked through Libris Mortis - but didn’t see any additional tools for use there. I was stoked to play the Dread Necromancer class until I realized that I couldn’t actualy USE any of the cooler minions I could create…kinda sucks.

Tommi (November 25th, 2007)

Combine with leadership and a cleric cohort for even more undead minions.

Also; shadows are plain deadly.

True necromancer (December 5th, 2007)

This is how you do it kids so pay attention.
There is only truly one way to build unyielding hordes of undead that number in the thousands.
You don’t need a cleric cohort.
You only need two things.
create greater undead
command undead
and high ranks in diplomacy.

The process is simple. Create a shadow, wraith, or specter and cast command undead on them until it works. (at this point you can do this 6 times a day and they need to make a dc 15 will check so you ought be able to get’em before they suck you dry)
At this point their attitude toward you will be “friendly” and will remain that way even after the spell ends unless you piss them off. (see charm person for details)

The next part is even easier.
Offer the newly created wraith, shadow, or specter your personal help in getting lots spawn established.
This will change it’s attitude from friendly to helpful (make a diplomacy check with a newly applied circumstance modifier due to your benevolence)
This will entail a few days work.
Start small and help your buddy wraith/shadow/specter to establish himself firmly with five or more spawns. Next locate a cave of kobolds or gobins or something and cast wall of force on the entrance while your wraith/shadow/specter and company is inside.
This is a good way to start.
any minions he controls are your allies.
This does not mean that they will die for you on a whim.
But it does mean that by the third or so such conclave you have built is ready, and you send out an invitation to war, you spectral army will be pretty much waiting in the wings.

Chances are an army of wraith/shadow/specter would be interested in a coordinated assault like that because a total town wipe out means lots and lots of spawn for all of them and that means yet bigger armies and larger conquests with you at the head.

Unfortunately, because you are merely an ally and not a spawn controller, your position as general is not assured. So they may rebel and stage a coup.
Also your DM may decide that these undead you helped to create are not interested in going to war for you at all to begin with.
Well the answer is easy. Locate your original creation and cast control undead on him. That should give you about 15 minutes or so to get him to round up his armies and send word out to his troops to march. Next, teleport him and yourself away to ensure that he won’t be able to catch his own spawn army.

You really don’t even need create undead to do this. You just need to meet a few wraith/shadow/specter’s and cast command undead them. So this could start at a very low level.
True necromancer is the best prestige class for this approach.

True necromancer (December 5th, 2007)

Leadership is a more practical route since cohorts are more reliable then free willed allies. (because yuo control their actions)
But again you would need your DM’s permission to get an ally that spawns and you don’t need his permission to do anything from the diplomacy route.

David Devine (June 2nd, 2010)

WRT the hordes of wraith / shadows / spectres … I once discussed this at length with a person who wanted to now how to handle this situation as a DM … he was running an Evil campaign, and his players had come up with this exact idea.

My wonder is, what prevents this from happening sans clever adventurers?

Minkle (September 9th, 2011)

Its a classic idea, creating an undead plague. Some GM’s may allow it, but honestly most wont want you stomping all over their setting like this and will try their hardest to stop you. The forces of good have some powerful ways to destroy undead, and spells like planar ally/planar binding to call in for back up or the holy sort.

Really, unless your VERY careful about this as soon as you start open aggression (perhaps sooner with divination magic) you will be a high priority target for the holy masses. Divination the spell gives 1 week notice of bad things approaching, and random oracles will get visions of darkness, ect. you will be the BBEG, and enjoy your 5 seconds of fame and unholy glory before adventurers, paladins, angels, and DM-knows what else come charging down your door to whipe out your army and make sure you’re so far dead you’ll hardly know what hit you.

Otherwise, I think its a wonderful thing to make full use of the cheap minions you can get through undead control, as a wizard or a cleric. Even when you get into higher levels, you can still put then to good use, as servants, mounts, guards, ect.

Just watch out for paladins, and the like, they tend to get a little twitchy around undead. And by twitchy, I mean Stabby.

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