I'm a Dungeon Master in D&D 4e. We've played since the first adventure. Now my players are level 21 and plots are very deep. A character started with a Vriloka paladin, his father killed his mother and our paladin drank her blood to become a Vriloka. Now he seeks vengeance against all undead.

He found the sword Nightbringer, an evil artifact that want to depose Orcus (he doesn't know it wants to become the new Orcus) so now we have a good paladin with a bad sword and he is in constant trouble: to make good, and living together with the sword and his plans.

The paladin is falling to the dark side.

Now I want to give him the "suggestion" made by Nightbringer to create his own army... of undead. 8) I want to see his reaction (and the reaction of the sword) but I need something to create those undead - a ritual, a power; something that a paladin, multiclass vampire can use to gather an undead army from fallen enemies.

Can you help me?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi, and welcome to the site! I've edited your email address out of your question - answers on this site take place in public and not private, and for good reason. Of course, once you have enough rep, you can come join us in chat to discuss anything RPG-related that wouldn't fit in Q&A. Take a look at the about page to get a feel for how this system works; and help if that doesn't answer all your questions. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 24, 2013 at 12:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ Why not just have the sword lead him to an army of undead, either one that's been waiting or that's susceptible to its control? \$\endgroup\$
    – okeefe
    Commented Jul 24, 2013 at 14:36

5 Answers 5



Do it with skill checks and keep it out of combat, there is no combat mechanic for controlling an army because 4e is dependent heavily on the action economy that would break hard by giving a PC multiple undead allies with their own actions.

Basically, the tactical combat play in 4e is reliant on balance, and what your proposing will break the balance, hard.

However, let's talk about the skill check option here. What your opening up is the potential for a couple of sessions of largely narrative play. It will primarily involve skill checks and challenges and is a huge opportunity for your players to embrace the role playing aspects that 4e does actually do quite well.

However, for this, you're going to have to throw the combat aspects of the rule book out the window and go with your imagination and story telling aspects. There are explicit not rules for this (intentionally so), instead there is the skill system, which you can use to support the narrative play that is called for here. So develop some skill challenges that fit and have a good idea of a couple of different plot threads that you could take and then see where your players and rolls take you.

If you want the actual mechanical guts of this: the sword provides the location of the ritual (make it up) and a short skill challenge with religion checks (easy DCs) should get him a decent army depending on his checks, after that, what he does with it should be a series of narrative cut scenes, your end goal should be to advance the character, but if you want to continue the game as a traditional 4e exercise you've got to get him back to just being him.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm sure you have something specific in mind that resolves the paradox, but you refer to "the role playing aspects that 4e does actually do quite well" and then say "you're going to have to throw the rule book out the window [...] There are not rules for this" – how does 4e "do this well" if it doesn't do it at all and the DM is left to figure it out himself? \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Commented Jul 24, 2013 at 13:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan let me see if I can clarify this a bit. My vision isn't quite throwing the book out, just the book how it's typically used. The combat aspects must fade away and the skill system must take over. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Jul 24, 2013 at 13:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Kryan in the great gamist vs. simulationist design debate 4e it does it well from a gamist perspective because it leaves it up to DM discretion and this sort of thing would be handled by skill checks vs. a set mechanical sub-system. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 24, 2013 at 13:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mastermicio What I'm saying is that there isn't one because it breaks the game design :). Action economy is god in this game, note how wizards' summons work. closest thing I can offer is a L20 daily power from the Enigmatic Mage PP. This gives you a daily that summons 5 undead minions, they still don't break action economy though. You can keep them all day though, which is kind of cool. \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Jul 24, 2013 at 13:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mastermicio in that case, just write whatever you need into your adventure. 4e gives DMs huge latitude by staying rules light with narrative stuff. The fact that there really aren't rules governing this is by design. So it's up to you, the player and your collective creatitivies :) \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Jul 24, 2013 at 14:05

As long as the player is alright with the fact that these minions will never be directly involved in a fight (Action economy problems etc) but will be useful (say, 100 of them is needed to keep the big bad's army off the party while they deal with the BB himself) then here is my suggestion-

The sword can raise the dead. Or, perhaps, the sword can raise the dead once the Gem Of Dark And Spooky Night is slotted into its hilt, if you want a dungeon crawl out of it. However, it can only raise the recently dead- within a few days. It can also only raise humanoids* that it has slain itself.

Now, give a pressure to have more of these guys. While they aren't directly all partaking in battle (due to balance concerns) there should be a solid mechanical reason to have more of them. Say, for every one you have, the bad guys have one less minion in a fight, as those minions are busy fending off the zeds. Though enough zombies and you'd have to rebalance those fights... Or, you're protecting a village from hordes who attack around the clock. You lot kill the bad guys while you're awake, but eventually you needs sleep- and the more minions you have, the fewer enemies get through and the fewer villagers wake up with their throats slit. Point is, give a solid, good reason that more undead minions is better.

Now, bait the trap. Your paladin already wants to kill more foes, because then he gets more XP and more loot, but now he wants to kill them himself, because that means more undead minions. What if the foe surrenders? That's a win for XP and loot, but not minions- does he kill them anyway? He sees a criminal attempt to mug someone in town- if he can give them the death sentence, then their body could be used to protect others. The sword, by the way, is strongly encouraging this behavior.

If the undead minions are not directly participating in combat or other mechanical situations, then their creation and presence does not need to be mechanically accounted for. Though I would make sure the other players are having narritively a similar amount of control of the story.

*By humanoids, I mean creatures which have a moral standing in your world. If goblins are monsters to be mown down by all who are good and righteous, then they don't count. If goblins live in town, and one runs the inn, then they do. You'll see why in a minute.


I like this story line, so let's see what we can do:

The first decision is how you want the undead army to potentially behave. Do you want them to be able to carry (some) of their undead army into combat with them? If so then I suggest "Nulathoe's Undead Army" as suggested in this answer: How can a character create a skeleton (or any other undead)

There are also some other existing spells/abilities that fit this general purpose: http://www.giantitp.com/forums/archive/index.php?t-269010.html (Wizard, Invoker, Mage, Nethermancer abilities) There's also the item "The Girdle of Skulls", a waist-slot item that is said to summon undead for the wearer to command.

In general, the Nulathoe's Undead Army seems to be the most interesting, as written it gives 5 undead in a balanced way - you have to use a minor action to give just one a movement, but if one attacks then all the others will attack automatically if in range.

Of course, this is not usable by a Paladin directly as a skill. RAW, Paladins don't do this kind of thing, Mages/Wizards (Necromancers) do, so I suggest using these items/spells as a guideline/suggestion; you'll likely have to roll your own item or permit some special skill/feat of your own design if you want to go that direct route.

Build vs Acquire

Sure, you can build an army, but you could also just steal one someone else went to the trouble of building.

To build, you might be using artifacts/scrolls/rituals to build up a cache of servants, or it could be as simple as a single relic or even alteration of the Nightbringer itself that permits something like Undead Army to be used; ostensibly the army is to serve your paladin, but perhaps Nightbringer needs a Plan B if his servant doesn't stay dark enough for its tastes?

If you go the item path, I suggest a "down side" - perhaps a relic that can do the job, but it needs something to fuel it, perhaps something that pushes your player's willingness to truly have his own army? Fueled by the agony of innocents, or screams of terror, tears of virgin priestesses, or just good old fashioned blood rituals that will have to attain a ghastly level of volume to build a suitable army. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and nobody goes straight into being a sadistic monster - give him a little power, but make each additional act of army building test his desire. He can choose to give up the potential power, or be lured into a never-ending path straight into the heart of darkness. Maybe he changes his mind at some point? Lots of possibilities!

Mechanically, each encounter could be standard encounters/battles/RP scenarios, something you could potentially work into a regular crawl (hold on guys, don't finish off that wizard just yet, I need a little something before he dies...or hey, why free that prisoner to probably just get killed on the way out of here, when their life could serve a grander purpose?).

If that doesn't suit your fancy, you can follow the lessons of army-builders throughout history - just steal it! Perhaps a depraved would-be-conqueror was buried along with his army and you need to destroy his source of power to disable the threat, or he could find a way to get the army to follow him as their new true master (undead are generally dumb, so maybe that's not so hard - maybe its harder than it looks). The common tropes are amulets, stave with some special insert, book/tome, secret words/incantations, etc.

Perhaps you can do it piecemeal, representing the army building as individual domination of "undead captains", and each one seeks to be spared of eternal damnation by joining "the cause"?

With each option you can decide to let things go badly, like a captain who can't be convinced and must be killed, or a ritual that fails and leaves him or the party beset by demons or zombies, or a dark intent being revealed by a prisoner who escapes the torture of his dark machinations. Relics can break, lies can be told that cause an undesired outcome if believed (Nightbringer I'm sure would be happy to throw in some bad advice or self-serving 'help'), and there can be consequences that force reconsideration.

If there is a (set?) of dark relics that give command of an army, people are going to want to take it for themselves, and perhaps to send a message and avoid constant harassment the time comes for the paladin to make a grim, excessive example of what happens when they get in his way. Perhaps it all becomes too much, the cost is too great, and he wants to destroy this evil before its too late.

Maybe the army is too much, and he risks madness, delusions, domination, or releasing an evil far greater than anticipated. Or maybe the cost of maintaining the grim magic outstrips his urge to build his army, and he must chose to commit a growing atrocity or face losing control completely.

The other thing you must consider is the implications to your normal play. If he really does go full dark side and gets even a small army, is there any RP-reason he can't send them off willy-nilly to invade a dungeon? Nulathoe's UA provides a relatively balanced mechanic of trading a powerful spell (healing surge) to cast, 1 HP undead allies, and the action restrictions. If you go that route, make him pay something similar, perhaps from a Paladin ability equally useful to healing surge to power it.

Its reasonable that, not being a super Archlich himself, his ability to usefully manage undead is limited, and so he could even potentially have an army of thousands of lumbering undead, but anything more than "lumber that direction and eat anything that gets in your way!" could be just too much, and is thus utterly unsuitable for smaller scale encounters.


You could use this as a jumping off point for a quest. I would say the best way to raise an army of the undead would be an artifact (necronomicon anybody?). An artifact such as this would probably need to be tracked down. It could be securely locked in a vault by an order of paladins to prevent it's power from being used, or perhaps in the private collection of some lord who has an interest in powerful magical artifacts. Then it's just a matter of retrieving the artifact, either through force or wit.


Hirelings (MME pg. 138) + Moilian Dead Theme(BoVD pg. 53) = Undead Army

1) Use the hireling rules to determine the stats for the undead (defenses, speed, attacks)

2) Add the Moilian Dead theme, which also comes from Orcus, to give your hirelings the undead subtype.

3) Lastly, IMO. You should treat the army as a swarm minion and each addition to the army gives it +1 HP. This lessens the burden on the DM and player to keep track of a giant number of characters, HP, etc.

Note: I left out the cost because I don't know the economy of your game, whether it relies on money, or something else. You should find something to make gathering the army taxing on the player or else you through at him will be thrown back at you.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Is this a 4e answer? \$\endgroup\$
    – wax eagle
    Commented Jul 24, 2013 at 17:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's not, BoVD is 3.x \$\endgroup\$
    – Zachiel
    Commented Jul 24, 2013 at 20:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ 4e does have a Mordenkainen's Magnificent Emporium, but neither Hirelings nor a Moilian Dead theme appear in the D&D 4e compendium. The only appearance of Moilian Dead is a monster released in Dragon Magazine 371. @Caden If this is a 4e-sourced answer, could you clarify what you're referring to and the full names of the books you're referencing? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 25, 2013 at 0:25

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