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I am having issues applying the Skeleton template to Dragons due to ambiguity or omissions in the Paizo rules. Rules for Dragons appear on pg. 90–91 in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary and the Skeleton template appears on pg. 251–252. For the following discussion, I will use an Adult Gold Dragon (pg. 108–109, ibid) as the base creature.

The rules for a Skeleton's defensive abilities seem to conflict when it has an elemental subtype.

Type: The creature’s type changes to undead. It retains any subtype except for alignment subtypes (such as good) and subtypes that indicate kind (such as giant).

This rule means a Skeleton Adult Gold Dragon will have Type Undead (fire)

Defensive Abilities: A skeleton loses the base creature’s defensive abilities and gains DR 5/bludgeoning and immunity to cold. It also gains all of the standard immunities and traits possessed by undead creatures.

Here is my perceived ambiguity. According to the rules for monsters: "A creature with the fire subtype has immunity to fire and vulnerability to cold". Because specific rules supersede general rules, the Skeleton Adult Gold Dragon loses its DR 5/magic, immunity to paralysis and sleep, and SR 26; and, gains immunity to cold. But it retains its subtype, which grants it immunity to fire and vulnerability to cold. This seems to yield something nonsensical:

DR 5/bludgeoning; Immune cold, fire, undead traits
Weaknesses vulnerability to cold

My instinct is to remove the vulnerability to cold under the logic that immunity should supersede that, but if I remove that aspect of the fire subtype should I also remove the immunity to fire for the sake of consistency? And if one removes both features of the fire subtype, then what remains of the fire subtype as a desciptor? Should it even remain on the stat block at all?

What are the immunities and weaknesses of a Skeleton Adult Gold Dragon, and why?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Kudos for the research, but this might be better served as separate questions. While it may seem odd to have to ask about, for example, a gold dragon skeleton's spellcasting and whether a dragon skeleton retains its dragon senses, these are questions that deserve individual attention rather than as a broad block of dragon skeleton questions as a lone question posed. (This isn't unprecedented or anything—I myself have asked multiple separate questions about a lone feat, for instance.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Sep 30 '17 at 17:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I can definitely break it up if you like! I just didn't want to be rude and spam the board. You can close or remove this (I don't know how or if I even can), and I'll re-post them if you prefer. \$\endgroup\$ – Addamere Sep 30 '17 at 17:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ (Also, asking the questions individually enables experts on certain aspects of the original question to address those without having to address the original question's other aspects. That should yield better answers to the individual questions than the bigger answers you'll get to this superquestion.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Sep 30 '17 at 17:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ OK! I'll re-post as individual questions. If/when they all get answered, would a F.A.Q. (answer my own question) resembling this one be helpful? \$\endgroup\$ – Addamere Sep 30 '17 at 17:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ You're not spamming by creating site content! That's totally legit. If you've multiple questions, please, ask multiple questions. I recommend chopping this question down to the first question, seeing what kind of answers you get, then posing the next separately yet linking to the previous; that'll cascade the questions in the Linked bar so that a user interested in one can quickly see them all. (Further, it's possible answers to one question will eliminate needing to ask later ones.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Sep 30 '17 at 17:37
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Whatever resistances and immunities you decide it should have

This is a topic of disagreement inside Paizo's development team (and the community). There are those who are in favor of stripping the subtype immunities, and others who are against and defend that a creature should keep immunities from their subtype, and we have seen published creatures that attempt defend both sides, but none actually does.

One side defends that if a creature becomes a skeleton, it also loses the defensive abilities gained by the subtype (Immune to Fire damage for the fire subtype), while still being a creature of that subtype whenever it matters (like spells). For both subtypes at topic here (fire and cold), this interpretation makes little sense as that is all that the subtypes do (grant immunities and vulnerabilities), but for other subtypes it makes sense, like a white dragon becoming a burning skeleton, its a creature made out of flamming bones, why should it be immune to cold? The template immunities and vulnerabilities should take precedence over the (now lost) subtype.

While the other defends that the immunity gained by the subtype is not a defensive ability and is not lost, or that the type (and subtype) takes precedence over the vulnerabilities of the template. I personally disagree with the reason behind this logic, but it's the one that makes most sense when you consider the example from before (burning skeleton white dragon).

There is one published adventure that has an example of immunities stacking, on the City of Golden Death Module, where we are presented with Tar-Baphon's Dragon (SRD reference without the flavor). He was a Young Gold Dragon (Immune to Fire, Vulnerable to Cold) that was killed and returned as a Skeleton (Immune to Cold). The final creature is immune both to cold and fire damage and is the dragon on the cover of the module.

However, he is labeled as an "unique dragon" (as opposed to being listed as a dragon with the skeleton template) since it didn't become a mindless skeleton and retained many of it's special abilities, including spell-like abilities and the breath weapon. As such, not a completely valid example for this, but this is the closest thing published by Paizo.

There are cases of creatures that lost an immunity once they got a template, like the Zombified Storm Giant (SRD reference) from Carrion Crown #3: Broken Moon. But here, the immunities are granted by the creature, and not her subtype, which is exactly what the template says and thus it was lost.

But why would an immunity granted from a type, or subtype, which are nothing more than design shortcuts to a list of abilities that are common to different creatures (and unnecessary copy+pasting), be different from an immunity granted by the creature? In my experience, when they have to publish a creature that would cause problems like this, they make up a new creature and call it a day. Rarely we see creatures with templates that will simply point out to a bestiary book, and when they do, those are simple templates (like the advanced template) that shouldn't take much preparation from the GM to apply on the base creature. From a designer perspective, it is much better to create a new creature if you will already have to write full a statblock for them and avoid being inconsistent with the rules.

There is one published template that attempts to address both subtypes, the shadowfire creature from the Emerald Spire Superdungeon. The template specifically replaces the vulnerabilities the base creature had and add immunity to both cold and fire damage, as it becomes a creature of blackish fire. The creature gains both the fire and elemental subtype if they did not have them already (the example in the book are fire elementals).

Let's not even begin to talk about when a published book completely ignore the rules and create something new for the rule of cool, like the Lycanthrope Ghouls from Classic Horrors Revisited, which also adds both Fire and Frost Giant ghouls with the relevant subtypes and immunities from each.

Lycanthrope: While a ghoul cannot become a lycanthrope, a living lycanthrope who succumbs to ghoul fever could rise as a ghoul. In most cases, this transformation removes the lycanthropic curse, resulting in a standard ghoul, but in rare events the resulting monster is a true ghoul lycanthrope. To create stats for such a creature, simply apply the lycanthrope template to a ghoul—this is an exception to the general rule that you can normally only add the lycanthrope template to a humanoid.

In the end, you must see for yourself which is best for your creature and nothing in the rules forbids you to make a red dragon skeleton that immune to fire and cold, followed by another that is immune to cold and vulnerable to fire, and a third one that is immune to fire and vulnerable to cold. You could even create one that is immune to all energy types and still be a valid creature under the rules. You might want to adjust the CR by +1 though (seriously).

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While the Dragon loses its defensive abilities from being a dragon it doesn't lose the defensive abilities granted to it by nature of the subtype of that dragon.

The skeleton template removes the base creature's defensive abilities, but the final creature retains all subtypes. While a Gold Dragon indeed is immune to fire, it's immune not (only) because it is a Gold Dragon but because it possesses the 'fire' subtype. This subtype is not a defensive ability of the base creature, though it confers some defenses, and the defenses it grants are not removed by the template because they are defensive abilities of the subtype, not the base creature. Thus, your dragon is both immune to and vulnerable to cold, and immune to fire.

Inconveniently, Paizo appears to have never published any creature with any template whose templating would result in this situation (i.e. no template that removes defenses like the skeleton template does has ever been published on a creature with a subtype that grants any sort of defense). I could just be missing something, but I've put quite a bit of prowling into the SRD and some other sources now, and it really looks like there's nothing. No skeletons/zombies of Azers, magmin, dragons, salamanders, thoqqua, xorn, water yai, or mephit at least. This means that, while we can see how the rules interact based on the framework provided, there's no published adventures where this situation is necessary.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ While this answer initially seems nonsensical, I suppose it would be relevant for effects that bypass immunity. For example, old or older Lunar Dragons have the ability Absolute Cold (Su) which states: "A creature immune to cold damage still takes half damage from the breath weapon (no damage with a successful saving throw)." Combined with vulnerability to cold, the Skeleton Gold Dragon would thereby take 75% damage from a Lunar Dragon's breath attack. \$\endgroup\$ – Addamere Sep 30 '17 at 19:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Addamere Indeed. Similarly, the final revelation of the Winter mystery and the spell Mythic Dirge of the Victorious Knights bypass cold immunity and resistance \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Sep 30 '17 at 21:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Another thing that seems to verify your interpretation is the difference in language from "base creature" and "creature" in the rules. “Skeleton” is an acquired template that can be added to any corporeal creature (other than an undead) that has a skeletal system (referred to hereafter as the base creature). Consider: "The creature's type changes to undead". At this point we are not talking about the dragon anymore; we are talking about the skeleton, which has no subtype yet. "It retains any subtype ..." The skeleton now has the fire subtype, which newly confers fire immunity. \$\endgroup\$ – Addamere Sep 30 '17 at 22:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer would benefit from a published example or other supporting evidence. It is not obvious a template can't change the abilities granted by a subtype without removing the subtype. \$\endgroup\$ – Thanuir Oct 1 '17 at 6:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Thanuir inconveniently, Paizo appears to have never published any creature with any template whose templating would result in this situation (i.e. no template that removes defenses like the skeleton template does has ever been published on a creature with a subtype that grants any sort of defense). I could just be missing something, but I've put quite a bit of prowling into the SRD now, and it really looks like there's nothing. No skeletons/zombies of Azers, magmin, dragons, salamanders, thoqqua, xorn, water yai, or mephit at least. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Oct 2 '17 at 5:44
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A template should always supersede the rules of the base creature whenever there is a conflict. Like d20 and 3.5e, Pathfinder is an exception-based ruleset where specific rules always trump general rules. Templates are also written as instructions for directly modifying a creature statistic block. Therefore, you should always interpret the instructions in a manner where the template (a specific rule) trumps the base creature's stat-block (general rule) as well as the general concepts like type and subtype from the base creature.

If this results in a stat-block that doesn't make sense, then adjust it accordingly with the notion that the template should always take precedence.

Q1: What are the immunities, weaknesses, and subtype of a Skeleton Adult Gold Dragon?

DR 5/bludgeoning; Immune cold, undead immunities

The skeleton template overwrites the defensive abilities gained by the fire subtype. This is indicated by the templates instructions below (emphasis mine).

Type: The creature’s type changes to undead. It retains any subtype except for alignment subtypes (such as good) and subtypes that indicate kind (such as giant). It does not gain the augmented subtype. It uses all the base creature’s statistics and special abilities except as noted here.

...

Defensive Abilities: A skeleton loses the base creature’s defensive abilities and gains DR 5/bludgeoning and immunity to cold. It also gains all of the standard immunities and traits possessed by undead creatures.

The type heading says it keeps its abilities except as noted. Later in the text, the instructions makes a note that the creature loses all defensive abilities. Since the skeleton template's defensive abilities are a noted exception, they overwrite the abilities gained from the fire subtype.

If we apply the template directly, this would result in the creature having both a vulnerability and a weakness to cold. Obviously, this is a problem because a creature cannot have both. However, since the template takes precedence over the general rules of the subtype, we have to make the judgment that the template's cold immunity overrides the fire subtype's cold vulnerability. Therefore, the dragon skeleton loses the cold vulnerability.

Q2: Are a Skeleton Dragon's natural weapons still treated as magic weapons for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction?

No.

The dragon loses its DR/magic. Therefore, it loses the ability to bypass DR/magic with its natural attacks as per the damage reduction rules.

Some monsters are vulnerable to magic weapons. Any weapon with at least a +1 magical enhancement bonus on attack and damage rolls overcomes the damage reduction of these monsters. Such creatures’ natural weapons (but not their attacks with weapons) are treated as magic weapons for the purpose of overcoming damage reduction.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Because "[a] skeleton loses the base creature’s defensive abilities" yet "retains any subtype," why would it lose the immunity to fire that comes from its subtype (which it keeps)? Couldn't it retain the vulnerability to cold from the fire subtype? I mean, it would only kick in if its skeleton-template-granted immunity to cold were somehow lost or negated, but it could kick in nonetheless. (Also, this answer may be premature; the asker's said he plans to break up the question.) \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Sep 30 '17 at 18:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Mindless creatures generally cannot cast spell or spell-like abilities because these are actions that require concentration." Is this written somewhere in the rules, or just reasonable speculation? \$\endgroup\$ – Thanuir Sep 30 '17 at 18:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ I appreciate the answers to the full superquestion, but I've since retitled this question and changed the body to reflect just the question about defensive abilities. Also, seconding the request for clarification about mindless creatures and spellcasting. \$\endgroup\$ – Addamere Sep 30 '17 at 18:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Cyrad Do you know of any published examples which verify your interpretation? \$\endgroup\$ – Addamere Sep 30 '17 at 22:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Cyrad Why would the dragon skeleton not have Weakness vulnerability to cold? \$\endgroup\$ – Addamere Oct 2 '17 at 1:46

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