How would someone tell the difference between a true undead creature, a corpse under animate objects, undead anatomy, or other methods?

I know that detect undead would show that true undead and the polymorph spell are undead, but the animate objects spell would not, and how many casters would look at a corpse that's moving and wonder if it's actually undead?

The purpose of this question is to mix in corpses that have animate objects cast on them corpses with undead to waste positive-energy attacks or spells to control/destroy undead.

I assume that eventually they would catch on that positive energy or undead spells are not effective, and even the difference in the abilities would show. But would Perception, Sense Motive, or even Knowledge (Religion) be able to tell you that what you are seeing is not undead?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Other than a Knowledge check, you mean? \$\endgroup\$
    – ShadowKras
    Mar 22, 2019 at 2:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ShadowKras Would a knowledge check actually reveal that something only looks like an undead? After all, a knowledge check doesnt reveal that the bear you are facing is actually a druid until you have reason to believe otherwise. \$\endgroup\$
    – Fering
    Mar 22, 2019 at 2:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 Interesting question! I have a vigilante in my campaign who’s alternate identity is undead, I think, in this case a perception vs. disguise would work. I’ll mull on this too, but to my mind, yes, the skills would work (inquisitor monster lore for sure would help). \$\endgroup\$
    – TigerDM
    Mar 22, 2019 at 10:58

1 Answer 1


Making a Knowledge check

A Knowledge check not only serves to identify the correct creature but also identify it's type. So, a zombie-like construct could be identified as such with a Knowledge (Arcana) check, and an actual undead zombie be identified as such with a Knowledge (Religion) check. This is clarified on this post by James Jacobs (Paizo's Creative Director):

So my thought is this: one roll. You simply declare "I want to figure out what this thing is. I rolled a 14." Then the DM asks what the relevant knowledge bonus is and determines if I know what I'm looking at. If it's, say, an aberration and I didn't bother with ranks in dungeoneering, I get nothing. But if it's an outsider and I have ranks in planes, then I might.

This is how I've always run it, and it works pretty well. Although usually I simply cut to the chase and ask the player to roll whatever the actually required Knowledge check is. This does mean that the player gets a clue as to what the monster's type is... if that's a problem (as in the case of an undead masquerading as a living creature, for example), I'll be more cagey about it, maybe asking them to make the roll and then looking at their sheet or asking them for ALL their knowledge ranks.

So, if you don't want to spoil the surprise, you could either ask for all their knowledge bonuses when making a check or even make the check instead of the player. Personally, I prefer to keep notes of the PC's knowledge bonuses and when they make a check, I simply compare that to those bonuses (which is a pain when they are skill monkeys).

Unless, of course, the creature has a special ability to ruse it's identity. Such as mimicking an object or another creature using Disguise. In that case, first, you must see through the disguise (Perception) before you can make the proper knowledge check. Otherwise, you might identify the creature incorrectly and believe in the disguise.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the FAQ, gives me exactly what I needed but not what I was hoping for. \$\endgroup\$
    – Fering
    Mar 22, 2019 at 11:54

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