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So, while looking through the template options for skeletons and animate dead, one of the listed options is the magus.

Magus: These variant skeletal champions and zombie lords are minor spellcasters (typically 5th-level or less) that have retained both their intelligence and their spellcasting abilities. Magus skeletons and zombies gain Silent Spell as a bonus feat. (CR +1 plus caster level)

This variant is the only one without an example. Looking at it, it seems pretty abstract. It looks like it may even be argued to fall under Create Undead instead of animate dead. However Create undead has the Skeletal champion template, which already retains class levels and intelligence and even gives extra HD that the magus doesnt seem to.

My question is, which spell creates a Magus skeleton, and if it is create undead, are they basically an extra free feat for the champion? If its animate undead, are they mostly mindless save for their spell casting ability? What is retained?

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Create a skeletal champion magus using create undead

To put this in perspective, I'm using the third printing of the Bestiary (originally published 2009) that on Variant Skeletons says

Perhaps the most dangerous variant skeleton, though, is the skeletal champion. This skeleton retains its intellect, and often any class levels it possessed in life. A skeletal champion cannot be created with animate dead—these potent undead only arise under rare conditions similar to those that cause the manifestation of ghosts or via rare and highly evil rituals. (251 and emphasis mine)

Then Classic Horrors Revisited (2010) introduces the skeletal champion variant magus (55) that's mentioned on d20PFSRD in this entry for Skeleton. (Ultimate Magic (2011) would describe the entirely different character class magus.) Thus, while skeletal champions could now fight and cast spells, there were still no instructions for their creation.

Finally, although the text itself isn't mentioned on d20PFSRD, Undead Revisited (2011) makes it relatively clear (on a table on page 3) that a skeletal champion can be created using the spell create undead just like the d20PFSRD describes. (This reader assumes that this includes variant skeletal champions like the skeletal champion magus, but, as always, ask the GM.)

Anyway, no matter what, the spell animate dead can't create a skeletal champion or any of its variants.

A skeletal champion magus will usually be a better investment than a normal skeletal champion of the same level or lower (and often higher!)

A skeletal champion magus is pretty much in multiple ways a power-up compared to a normal skeletal champion. I mean, of course, the skeletal champion magus gains a bonus feat, but—more importantly—, a skeletal champion magus can cast magic spells, therefore employing the game's most powerful force. Still, the typical problem with creating a bunch of skeletal champion magi is that finding the corpses of dead spell casters is usually much more difficult than finding the corpses of the mundane warriors killed by the spell casters.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So a skeletal magus gets all the bonuses that a Skeletal Champion gets, PLUS the extra feat for spellcasting? not instead of the skeletal champion benefits. (also probably much more dangerous as skeletons made with create undead are free-willed) \$\endgroup\$
    – Erudaki
    Dec 17 '20 at 14:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erudaki It appears so. I mean, so far as I'm aware, there are no additional details, anyway. The problem with creating skeletal champion magus (ahem) remains finding the right corpse… and—you're right—also controlling the resultant free-willed undead creature. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 17 '20 at 14:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ From my look into soul lore for undead and what not... raising (or being) undead (intelligent ones anyway) seems to corrupt the soul and twist the alignment towards evil. I figure if i amass enough skeletons through animate + command undead, i can just assign them minions and use power to persuade them to follow me. Plan on making a whole smattering of intelligent undead commanders. So knowing exactly how to make spellcasters is rather important. Granted some of this is still up to setting and GM interpretation. But... hey. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erudaki
    Dec 17 '20 at 14:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Erudaki A skeletal champion magus that's powerful enough to itself cast create undead may take the view that its creator would better serve the cause were the creator also a skeletal magus. Also, I would not—as a guideline and even if I created those legions—rely on negotiations with evil undead legions to go well (or to be fair). That just seems like misplaced faith, y'know? But, still, good luck, and I'm glad to've helped. \$\endgroup\$ Dec 17 '20 at 14:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ For sure. I plan on securing power to back up what i do before trying to ensure my underlings have good cause to follow me. Also i plan on trying to become a lich. so. That may also help. But thats a future plan :D \$\endgroup\$
    – Erudaki
    Dec 17 '20 at 15:10

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