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I have some undead PCs playing my game, and think it would be an interesting if they were given the option to atone instead of being outright destroyed if/when they run into a cleric of high enough level.

The Atonement spell clearly states that the target of the spell is: "living creature touched".

In the Edimmu's Rejuvenation section it says: "Upon an edimmu’s destruction, the magics that bind it to the mortal world linger on. Thus, 1d4+1 days after an edimmu’s destruction, the creature reforms with full hit points. The only way to destroy an edimmu is with an atonement spell. The atonement absolves the creature of its sins and sorrows, allowing it to finally return to its native plane."

In order to destroy an edimmu (CE Medium undead (incorporeal)), first you have to target it with an atonement spell, which, unless I'm misunderstanding something, isn't possible RAW.

Is this just an error, or is there a way to target an undead creature with the spell atonement that I haven't found?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center or ask us here in the comments (use @ to ping someone) if you need more guidance. Good Luck and Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Dec 27 '19 at 16:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah. Rule 0 remains that the GM (you, it sounds like) makes decisions about how rules work and which are used, how, so long as the intent is to present a fun environment for you and your players \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Dec 27 '19 at 18:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's true, but I like to be consistent with RAW whenever possible. \$\endgroup\$ – AlGrythim Dec 27 '19 at 19:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gatherer818 not all base undead are evil: e.g ghosts. No creature with a head slot is ever always one alignment : the helm of opposite alignment exists. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Dec 28 '19 at 0:38
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Specific beats general

This is an actual application of specific beats general. Some creatures have special notes in their entries about spells that have unusual effects on them. Those spells have those effects on them, even though they normally don't do that. For example; any undead creature can be restored to life via true resurrection unless its entry says otherwise-- that's part of the rules for the undead type-- even though true resurrection normally needs a soul that is free and willing to return.

The undead you mention is weird, in that it implicitly lets you target it with a spell it normally couldn't be targeted by and it is unclear if the spell's normal effects also apply. Nevertheless, you can target it with atonement even though you can't target an ordinary vampire, e.g.

Note also that not being able to target invalid targets is not a thing in the rules but rather one of several popular ways of resolving the invalid target problem in Pathfinder. Other options include you can target whatever but the spell will have no effect and you can target whatever but the spell has no effect but the slot (and spell for prepared casters) is not lost and can be cast again in the future. Only if you actually straight-up can't target invalid targets-- which is a perfectly valid interpretation-- does this become an issue at all (in which case this creature should be ruled implicitly targetable as above).

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    \$\begingroup\$ So when this incorporeal creature temporarily dies it leaves remains that can be touched so as to satisfy the atonement spell? \$\endgroup\$ – Hey I Can Chan Dec 27 '19 at 20:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @HeyICanChan I guess so? It says "Thus, 1d4+1 days after an edimmu’s destruction, the creature reforms with full hit points" -- I would probably have the incorporeal special quality's 50% failure rate not apply to atonement castings on a dead edimmu's nonetheless incorporeal remains pre-rejuvenation. Casting in combat would require a melee touch attack with 50% fail chance for corporeal sources (and also an hour so no one would do this I think). Really, though, were I to use the creature I would replace the casting of atonement with some other less confusing activity. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Dec 28 '19 at 0:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Another, less kind, GM might say, though, that the creature leaves no remains. In that case the PCs can either camp and, one hour before it might rejuvenate for the next five days, begin casting atonement. Alternatively, they could cough up some more gold and cast Resurrection or True Resurrection on the creature when it reappeared, or cast dismissal or otherwise kill it and finish the rest of the campaign before it respawns. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Dec 28 '19 at 0:54
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It is neither an error nor dependent on another method.

RPGs use exception-based rulesets. That is, general rules are defined, and then other game elements will create specific exceptions to those rules as needed.

In this case, there is a general rule that Atonement can only target living creatures. The Edimmu, then, is a specific exception to that rule, as an undead creature whose rules clearly allow it to be targeted by Atonement (otherwise, how would its Rejuvenation ability even work). This doesn't negate the general rule that Atonement can't target undead, only the specific case of an Edimmu.

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A creature that possesses the type undead cannot normally be targeted by the spell atonement because of the atonement spell's entry of Target: Living creature touched (also see Aiming a Spell on Target or Targets). The supernatural ability rejuvenation of an edimmu presents an exception to the way the spell atonement normally works but only for a creature that possesses the rejuvenation ability. As also explained in fine answers here and here, the game routinely makes specific exceptions to the general rules as part of its design.

This means that a cleric, druid, or inquisitor can't cast an atonement spell on your undead PCs unless that caster possesses a special ability that allows the caster to overcome the limitations of the atonement spell's Target entry.

That should answer the question. However, if you're interested in how difficult it is to send incorporeal undead genies to their final reward using the far-too-brief exception made by the rejuvenation ability then read on.


A strict reading makes it extremely difficult to use atonement to send an edimmu to its native plane

The supernatural ability rejuvenation of the edimmu—an incorporeal and undead genie—, in part, says, "The only way to destroy an edimmu is with an atonement spell. The atonement absolves the creature of its sins and sorrows, allowing it to finally return to its native plane." Hence the edimmu's rejuvenation ability does create an exception for the atonement spell, but it's a far smaller exception than it may perhaps initially appear.

That is, even with the exception made by the edimmu's rejuvenation ability, a strict reading still doesn't change the atonement spell's entry of Target: Living creature touched as the rejuvenation ability makes no exception for the atonement spell's Target entry. Unless the less-strict reader extrapolates, speculates, or make house rules (a term I don't use pejoratively), exceptions change only what they say they change, and the only change to the atonement spell when an edimmu's (somehow) the subject is that the edimmu may opt to return to its native plane.

Thus it's the atonement spell's caster who is left with the uneasy task of somehow targeting with that atonement spell a creature both that possesses the type undead and that's probably destroyed. (And after these targeting obstacles there's the extraordinary ability incorporeal and its 50% miss chance against corporeal effects.)

Nonetheless, the vast amount of material available for Pathfinder means that I have no doubt that a specific set of character options allows a caster to cast such an atonement spell. However, I suspect that set of character options won't be present in most campaigns (except, of course, in regions and settings overrun by edimmus).

Finally—and not inconsequentially—, the edimmu's original and (so far as I'm aware) only treeware appearance is in House of the Beast (2009), part 2 of the Legacy of Fire adventure path that Paizo published for Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, and House is for level 5 PCs that by the adventure's end achieve level 7. In other words, it doesn't matter that in the adventure where edimmus actually appear as antagonists that an edimmu can be returned to its native plane only with an atonement spell: the PCs that encounter them won't typically have access to atonement spells anyway. (The atonement spell is usually available only to characters level 9 and higher.)

What this all adds up to for this reader is the humble suggestion that perhaps the rejuvenation ability of the edimmu is actually an error… of sorts. I mean, the ability as it's presented does—if tilt your head and squint—function mechanically, but for an adventurer to reach the goal of that specific atonement spell requires leaping through how many flaming hoops exactly? Honestly, typical adventurers could very well find it easier to destroy forever a lich than to redeem and send home a bothersome edimmu! (And the typical edimmu is only CR 3!)

I suspect somebody involved with House of the Beast—likely somebody late at night on deadline—forgot (or forgot to care) that the spell atonement had that Target: Living creature touched entry. This wouldn't be the first time that Paizo seemed to fail to realize how abilities and exceptions to them work (for example, see this question and this question) or that special care must be taken when designing effects for undead creatures (for example, see this question).

In the end, a GM that wants to use edimmus in a traditional campaign may want to make a house rule like A creature can cast an atonement spell on the remains of a destroyed edimmu as if those remains were a corporeal living creature, but the reader should be aware that this is a house rule. Another GM may see things differently, expecting characters who took specific options to thwart her campaign's edimmu invasion.


Note: As an example, the spell-like ability second chance that's the level 8 granted power of the inquisition Redemption specifically does circumstantially overcome any targeting restrictions on the atonement spell that the spell-like ability largely emulates when the second chance ability says that "you can cast atonement as a spell-like ability, targeting a creature that has violated the tenets of a religion you both share or that freely desires to convert to your alignment." (An incorporeal miss chance continues to apply to the typical corporeal caster, though.) Still, because of the level at which it becomes available, even this special ability can't help PCs who are fighting their way through House of the Beast, but the second chance ability may be useful against your campaign's undead PCs.

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