A lot of encounters in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game depend on contextual factors to adjust the overall difficulty of an encounter. Where a party fights a thing is as important as how they fight. A GM looking to build a challenging fight would do well to consider a creatures type (and affiliated traits) when setting up an combat. A new feature, Type Casting, will give a few tips off of a creatures traits on how to make terrifyingly good challenges based on their type… starting with the undead.
From the type entry in the Bestiary: “An undead creature possesses the following traits (unless otherwise noted in a creature’s entry).
- No Constitution score. Undead use their Charisma score in place of their Constitution score when calculating hit points, Fortitude saves, and any special ability that relies on Constitution (such as when calculating a breath weapon’s DC).
- Darkvision 60 feet.
- Immunity to all mind-affecting effects (charms, compulsions, morale effects, patterns, and phantasms).
- Immunity to death effects, disease, paralysis, poison, sleep effects, and stunning.
- Not subject to nonlethal damage, ability drain, or energy drain. Immune to damage to its physical ability scores (Constitution, Dexterity, and Strength), as well as to exhaustion and fatigue effects.
- Cannot heal damage on its own if it has no Intelligence score, although it can be healed. Negative energy (such as an inflict spell) can heal undead creatures. The fast healing special quality works regardless of the creature’s Intelligence score.
- Immunity to any effect that requires a Fortitude save (unless the effect also works on objects or is harmless).
- Not at risk of death from massive damage, but is immediately destroyed when reduced to 0 hit points.
- Not affected by raise dead and reincarnate spells or abilities. Resurrection and true resurrection can affect undead creatures. These spells turn undead creatures back into the living creatures they were before becoming undead.
- Proficient with its natural weapons, all simple weapons, and any weapons mentioned in its entry.
- Proficient with whatever type of armor (light, medium, or heavy) it is described as wearing, as well as all lighter types. Undead not indicated as wearing armor are not proficient with armor. Undead are proficient with shields if they are proficient with any form of armor.
- Undead do not breathe, eat, or sleep.”
Type Casting: On Location with the Undead
So much to work with here! The first bullet point of No Constitution score is mostly negated by later immunities but other wise the ideas for encounters here are endless.
- Darkvision: Standard dungeoneering stuff, but nothing to sneeze at ignoring most low-level darkness effects (and their miss chances), this allows undead to fill the roll of the danger in the dark room. While a great educational foundation for new dungeoneers, the ability to function in the black is no small matter It will make other situations much more workable for our living-challenged friends later.
- Immunity to Mind-Affecting Effects: Labyrinths with hypnotic pattern traps anyone? Siren priestess and her zombified former victims? Fear symbols activating mid-melee? Really the options here are TERRIFYING.
- Immunity to Death Effects: This is one of lesser situational immunities in that most Death Effects are targeting. However it does mean running past hallways etched with symbols of death, ignoring wail of the banshee and negative energy circles. More an immunity for large scale, military-style undead campaigning.
- Immunity to Disease: From pox-ridden villages to stagnant swamp water, the filth and fun that can surround our decaying dandies is just laden with Fortitude Save filled goodness.
- Immunity to Paralysis and Stunning: While the brutality of a power word: stun might be a bit much, advanced shrieking mushrooms with stunning qualities might be the perfect killing field for under realm wights.
- Immunity to Poison: Contact poison on the puzzle controls? Needle traps in those handles? Our lich doesn’t mind at all! For less overt tricks, consider chambers filled with more subtle poisons the undead are free to pay no heed to.
- Non-Lethal Damage – This is particularly useful for dungeons that are in environmental extremes. Cold and heat both express nonlethal damage at certain levels of intensity meaning that our sweltering jungle palace, mirage shrouded desert fortress and ice-rimed temple all are great places for undead to roam while wearing down those pesky adventurers (or maybe their stores of defensive magics).
- Physical Ability Damage and Ability Drain: While highly related to poison and death effect immunity, this particular twist does mean that they can also move in close quarters to one another. Corridors full of undead swarms anyone?
- No Breathing: This makes a very basic thing very dangerous. Water. Long corridors or entire dungeons flooded with water can make for lethal runs or dangerous delves of even relatively simple dungeons.
- No Sleeping: This immunity holds a pretty large redundancy with the above immunities but is worth noting more from a logistics level. The undead never sleep and never tire mean they can power processes endlessly. Turn wheels, crank pumps, move materials and so on… Wholesale slaughter of the dead in a necromancers fortress might mean elevators stop working or rooms kept free of moat water suddenly flood.
Credit Where it is Due
If you exploit the undead type to enrich an encounter then there is one more thing you should do: Reward the hazard. Most of the above situations are in game terms hazard challenges that should give additional experience for being overcome. Some “old school” GMs think this isn’t necessary but beating 4 zombies in an old mausoleum is a lot different than beating 4 zombies is disease-ridden sewers that have been flooded in an attempt to dilute an alchemical poison spill…
Creature type is a great starting point when scripting a ground up adventure. A good grip of mechanical realities should allow a GM enormous options to make PCs never forget surviving… assuming they do.
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