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Sylvan Necromancy (Dual Sphere) states:

You can use your (plant) geomancing abilities on corpses instead of plants. In addition, you can reanimate dead plant life as zombies (or skeletons, if they are made of wood) with the grab special ability. These animated plants are treated as animated objects when determining their statistics, although they do not gain construction points. If you possess Hazardous Terrain, undead plant life and plant creatures you create add damage on a successful grapple attempt as if it were an entangle effect.

Has a ruling in regards to this ever made by a designer or mentioned somewhere in the book which I missed?

What I am confused about is the line about 'dead plant life' since in theory planks and such are also dead plant life. Would that make a ship a valid target? (Which feels broken since for enchantment sphere animating a ship requires twenty caster levels.) A ruling that came to mind was it targeting individual planks but in that case it would also be valid for single pieces of grass which probably isn't intended. (Since if that was the case a death mage could cast 'mass death magic' and create forty minions with one HD)

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Plant life is not a defined game term

The rules refer to plant life in various contexts. As a Verdant bloodline sorcerer you your body can be suffused by it, for a treesinger druid or plant master archtype it refers to a plant companion creature. So there is really no universal definition what is covered by the term "plant life", and what is not, and in extension, there is none for dead plant life.

Given this, I think it is up to the GM to judge how narrow or wide the term is. Some considerations:

It may make sense to require dead plants (or plant parts) that are of matching size to build the effigy body of the undead creature, and use the standard bestiary size for a zombie or skeleton, meaning these undead you create would be of medium size.

This way, you cannot turn a single grass leaf into a zombie, but you may be able to do so with the mound of rotting vegetable matter of a pile of fallen leaves. I think the size approach is also useful for your other question: You could rule for example that a pair of chairs or some planks of the ship animate as a plant "skeleton“, potentially creating a leak, but not transform the entire ship.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "...you cannot turn a single grass leaf into a zombie, but you may be able to..." Isn't this covered by the rules? As I read it, animating dead plant life turns it into an animated object instead of a zombie/skeleton, thus a leaf animated would turn into a very, very small animated object. If it turned it into an actual zombie, I'm not sure what it would be a zombie of, since zombie is a template. \$\endgroup\$
    – Phoenices
    Nov 11, 2022 at 17:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Phoenices Am I somehow misinterpreting "In addition, you can reanimate dead plant life as zombies (or skeletons, if they are made of wood)"? \$\endgroup\$ Nov 11, 2022 at 17:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ As disproof, I'll say again: zombies of what? Zombie isn't a creature, like in 5e, it's a template. But also, "These animated plants are treated as animated objects when determining their statistics, although they do not gain construction points." The only animated plants mentioned are the wood-skeletons and moss-zombies. Thus, they're probably zombies for some purposes, but with the state of animated objects. \$\endgroup\$
    – Phoenices
    Nov 11, 2022 at 17:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Phoenices, Ah, now I see what you mean. I suggest to use the standard Zombie size, instead of a template to interpret this. I just would not use miniature grass-leaf zombies, but require a heap of grass large enough to form a medium sized grass zombie, and have the stats of a medium sized object \$\endgroup\$ Nov 11, 2022 at 18:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think I came up with a proper ruling. Assuming the target is smaller than small then the necromancer instead animates them as a swarm of a size desired by the necromancer(Assuming their hit dice limit is enough.) So a level five necromancer could create a swarm of undead grass with ten hit dice. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 16, 2022 at 8:25
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It works exactly how it says.

You can turn a bunch of grass (or planks or whatever) into a skeleton, or zombie, or whatever kinds of Undead your Death sphere talents allow you to create.

You seem to be inferring some additional rules that are not present in the entry, however.

The skeletons, zombies, or what have you would have standard bestiary stats. They would not be '1/40 hd zombies' or whatnot. Unless, of course, you had some 1/40hd Plant creatures, dead, that you were re-animating - then you would apply the zombie template as normal. However i'm unaware of any 1/40 HD creatures in any printed pathfinder product and i'd recommend against homebrewing some.

Would that make a ship a valid target?

A Medium sized chunk of it, sure. You could rule as the DM that the entire ship turns into a single medium sized skeleton, but that breaks considerable verisimilitude for no reason. It is far more logical to assume that a Medium sized zombie only uses a Medium sized chunk of the ship (which if it's the outer hull may still lead to flooding).

(Which feels broken since for enchantment sphere animating a ship requires twenty caster levels.)

Keep in mind even if you ruled that the entire ship turns into a single skeleton (which you shouldn't), it would no longer function as a ship. It would be a Medium sized wooden Skeleton, with the stats of a Skeleton from the Bestiary. While Vehicles do have stats in PF, they are not, strictly speaking, Creatures and thus the template would not be applied to vehicle stats. An Animated Object Ship would however be a creature and you could (somehow) apply the Skeleton template to it if you first Animated it, and then, de-Animated it (violently). However that would require at least finding an Animated ship first before violently disposing of it and reanimating it necromantically. Which would potentially also be beyond the Necromancer's HD limit, as Animated Objects have quite a few HD.

A ruling that came to mind was it targeting individual planks but in that case it would also be valid for single pieces of grass which probably isn't intended. (Since if that was the case a death mage could cast 'mass death magic' and create forty minions with one HD)

As I said previously, you can't just magic up 1/40 HD creatures, you either get the Standard Zombie, or you apply the Zombie Template to an existing (dead) creature. Likewise, verisimilitude would lead me to rule that you need a Medium sized amount of dead plant matter to create a Medium sized skeleton or zombie, which is the only kind you can create without, again, the corpse of a Creature to reanimate.

The Sylvan Necromancy ability is a bit strange as written and you might be tempted to homebrew some 'plant zombies' that the druidic necromancer can reanimate with uniquely plant like traits and sizes larger than medium (or smaller than medium). However if you do so, I would steer away from randomly making it overpowered (40 zombies for the price of one or such) and instead look at existing bestiary creatures for inspiration/balancing purposes, and keep in mind as with all homebrew that if it is too much (or too little) you should feel free to change it.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ The spell description specifically states that 'Zombies' created by this are treated as animated objects. "These animated plants are treated as animated objects when determining their statistics." Furthermore in PF 1e 'Zombie' and 'Skeleton' are templates placed on top of a creature. The one provided in the bestiary is an example as opposed to what you create. Should you look into the hyper links in Animate dead spell page of d20pfsrd it will indicate the templates as opposed to the bestiary version. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 16, 2022 at 7:40

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