It's me again with more questions about undead.

I was reading the cleric's animate dead spell, and I was a little bit disappointed after reading the skeleton's stats. 6 hp is kind of bad for an elite troop, plus no Int score means they can't be made into a warden or anything other than a basher in melee.

How can I add HD to undead, and are there undead that I can animate with an Int score?

I know about the Karnathi undead from Eberron, but I don't have enough information about their creation. I don't want the undead to have too much HD: I want a little group, not 3 overpowered undead. I will be LVL 10 at this point.

I'm playing D&D 3.5e, but Pathfinder answers are okay, too.


3 Answers 3


I cannot hope even to come close to the "Tome of Necromancy" by Frank and K for advice--it should be mandatory reading for any necromancer--, but here're some starting points for manufactured undead.

Creatures Available Using Animate Dead

The 4th-level Sor/Wiz spell animate dead [necro] (PH 198-9) lacks the versatility of the 6th-level Sor/Wiz spell create undead [necro] (PH 215) and the 8th-level Sor/Wiz spell create greater undead [necro] (PH 215), but Wizards of the Coast didn't ignore it completely.1 In addition to the skeleton (MM 225-7) and skeletal dragon (Dr 192-3) and the zombie (MM 265-7) and zombie dragon (Dr 197-8), the following undead can be created via the spell animate dead by meeting additional requirements and providing the additional components beyond onyx worth 50 gp per HD.

  • The bloodhulk (MM4 22-4) is available as a fighter (10 HD), giant (14 HD), and crusher (20 HD). Manufacturing a bloodhulk requires corpses of the appropriate size (Medium for a fighter, Large for a giant, and Huge for a crusher) and the "blood from three recently slain creatures the same size as the potential bloodhulk." Note: Bloodhulks count as double their Hit Dice when determining both if a creature can use the spell animate dead to manufacture one and for the total amount of undead HD a creature can control.
  • The bone naga (MM2 35-6), according to "Birth of the Dead" (Dragon #336 38), is created by a ritual known to dark nagas (MM 191-2) via the spell animate dead with additional material components including "the ocular fluids of a divine caster and a sentient reptile" (which may or may not be in the necromancer's spell component pouch right now). However, the ritual is "[o]nly taught to dark nagas [and] contains... somatic components that humanoids cannot emulate."
  • The dread (LE 169) has as an additional material components "a zendalure gemstone worth at least 1,000 gp."
  • The necrosis carnex (MM4 104-5) requires a minimum caster level of 11 and requires as part of its manufacture "three corpses from Medium creatures and cold-hammered iron bands worth 200 gp" that become part of the creature.

The Necrosis Carnex Meets Your Requirements
While it would be beautiful to create bone nagas, unless the DM's willing to handwave the fluff (and, really, the DM shouldn't--bone nagas are ridiculous and the fluff required to learn and perform the ritual is pretty cool), the necrosis carnex is the winner. Although it only has an Intelligence score of 3 and can't speak (it only "understands [its] creator's orders"), it can nonetheless lead by example and even gain class levels.

Have the DM determine if necrosis carnexes "make few attempts to communicate" (MM4 105) because they're--I don't know--just jerks or something, or if it's because they physically can't communicate. If the former, necrosis carnexes don't need the feat Surrogate Spellcasting (SS 39-40) to become casters, but, if the latter, they're out of luck without modifying all their spells with the feats Silent Spell (PH 100) and Still Spell (PH 101). Even lacking class levels, the smallest army of manufactured undead should contain at least one necrosis carnex anyway; its supernatural ability necrotic touch makes it an undead army's medic (This can be superseded by quantities of the hazard black sand (Sa 20), which can be created temporarily via the 3rd-level Clr spell black sand [necro] (Sa 111)).

"Can Hit Dice Be Added to Undead?"

A creator can't add Hit Dice manufactured undead as part of their creation (q.v. here). Manufactured undead have a set amount of Hit Dice and must gain Hit Dice via either acquiring class levels, a special ability, or fluff text (e.g. undead who exist long enough sometimes acquire the template evolved undead (LM 99-100)). However, a variety of means exist to upgrade manufactured undead as part of their creation.

Methods of Upgrading Undead During Their Creation

  • Too many base and prestige classes to list grant bonuses to manufactured undead, but of particular interest--and available to any creature with who takes even a single level of wizard--is the necromancer specialist wizard variant class feature enhance undead, an extraordinary ability, which says that

    Any time a necromancer using this variant creates an undead creature (such as with animate dead, create undead, or create greater undead), all undead creatures created gain a +4 enhancement bonus to Strength and Dexterity, and two additional hit points per Hit Die. This ability does not affect the number or Hit Dice of animated creatures that the necromancer can create or control. A necromancer using this variant does not gain additional spells per day for being a specialist wizard.

    Emphasis mine. As the creature is still a necromancer after taking the level of wizard no matter what other classes the creature possesses, undead manufactured via clerical spells get this same bonus.

  • The general feats Bolster Resistance (LM 25), Corpsecrafter (LM 25), Deadly Chill (LM 25-6), Destruction Retribution (LM 26), Hardened Flesh (LM 27), and Nimble Bones (LM 29) all improve the feats' possessor's ability to animate or create undead.
  • The necromatic feats--all of which increase an undead creature's effective Hit Dice when computing the number of undead a creature can control and many of which have additional requirements to apply their effects to an undead--appear in "Among the Dead: Necromancer Archetypes and Abilities" (Dragon #312 29-38) and include the feats Bolster Power, Death Curse, Graveborn Expert, Graveborn Warrior, Heightened Agility, Heightened Strength, Uncanny Speed, and Vicious Claws.
  • The 2nd-level Cleric spell desecrate [evoc] (PH 218) grants undead created or summoned within the area +1 or +2 hp per Hit Die and significant bonuses while the undead remain within the spell's area. A similar nonstacking +2-hp-per-Hit-Die is available via the deadwalker's ring (CM 126) (4,000; 0 lbs.). Similar nonstacking bonuses are available via the magical terrain ebony ice (Fr 15), the supernatural danger dead calm (Sto 13), the 3rd-level Clr spell defile ice and snow [necro] (Fr 92), the 6th-level Sor/Wiz spell blackwater taint [necro] (Sto 114), and, undoubtedly, other means.
  • The 9th-level Sor/Wiz spell plague of undead [necro] (SpC 158) is like the spell animate dead except with a vastly reduced material component cost (just 100 gp total--seriously) and undead created via the spell have maximum hp per Hit Die. Note: Read that again. That's awesome.

Barring shenanigans, one character can't possess all the feats that improve manufactured undead. There are just too many (even to detail, which is why I only sourced them). Further, too many such feats grant inconsequential bonuses that become consequential only all at once in a big pile. Instead of permanently taking these feats, if possible, before manufacturing undead, acquire them via the power psychic reformation [telepathy] (XPH 127) and, when finished manufacturing undead, use psychic reformation a second time to return to the original build. Sure, it's dodgy, but the game is cruel to make folks think that a +2 bonus to manufactured undead's natural armor via the feat Hardened Flesh is worth a 1/7 or 1/8 a character's total feats for his entire career.

Below is additional information that may help the character create a more formidable undead army.

The Spellstitched Template

As soon as a creature who wants to master undead is able, he should apply the template spellstitched (CAr 161-2) to an undead he controls--preferably to an undead he can keep in a safe place and somehow grant an obscene Wisdom score. If the undead's Wisdom score can be sufficiently increased while the template spellstitched determines what spell-like abilities the spellstitched creature can employ, just one spellstitched undead can make (un)life as a necromancer much more interesting, saving him mountains of gold and bottles of XP.

A Sample Spellstitched Undead's Selection of Spell-like Abilities
This assumes a Wisdom 19 or higher spellstitched undead. Spell selection is independent of what spells are available to the spellstitched undead's creator, and there're no restrictions on the spell lists from which the creator can pick spells. For additional craziness, caster level equals the spellstitched undead's HD, which can be... impressive.
Spell-like Abilities: 1/day--animate dead [necro] (PH 198-9), animate dread warrior [necro] (Una 48), animate infectious zombie [necro] (City of Stormreach 144), animate undead legion [necro] (Dragon #309 49), command undead2 [necro] (PH 211), revive undead [necro] (SpC 175-6), undead lieutenant [necro] (SpC 226); 2/day--benign transposition [conj] (SpC 27), mage armor [conj] (PH 249); 3/day--create magic tattoo3 [conj] (PH 55).

"I Need More Undead!"

Is there such thing as too many undead minions? Of course not. The holy site sepulcher of Wee Jas (CC 156-7), the armor and shield special ability undead controlling (DMG 219) (49,000 gp; 0 lbs.), and the magic items night caller (LM 79) (7,000 gp; 0 lbs.) (and whether this supersedes Azun-gund (SC 32) (3,000 gp; 0 lbs.) is the DM's call), rod of undead mastery (MIC 175-6) (10,000 gp; 3 lbs.), porcelain mask (OA 141) (27,000 gp; 2 lbs.), mace of unlife (AE 112) (138,312 gp; 8 lbs.), rod of restless death (ELH 139-40) (625,000 gp; 5 lbs.), and a host of other items allow a creature to control more undead than normally allowed.

The feat Planar Touchstone (PlH 41-2) while linked to the touchstone site Catalogues of Enlightenment (PlH 166-7) can give the character the granted power of 1 of the Domains deathbound (SpC 272-3), deathless (ECS 105), or necromancer (ECS 107), any of which will improve the creature's ability manufacture or control undead.

  1. Area G. Library of the Temple of Zoretha (ElE 57) contains a scroll of lesser animate dead, which is--seriously--a spell in Pathfinder. It's otherwise unmentioned in Wizards of the Coast products. So, y'know, at least the spell animate dead wasn't as ignored as that spell.
  2. Requires the undead to be capable of speech; alternately, break economies (albeit slowly) with the 2nd-level Sor/Wiz spell continual flame [evoc] (PH 213).
  3. Requires the undead have at least 1 rank in the Craft (calligraphy), (drawing), (painting), or other craft skill, and, ideally, be able to succeed on a DC 20 skill check with that skill; alternately, just go with the ol' standby, the 2nd-level Clr spell desecrate [evoc] (PH 218).

Awaken Undead

From Spell Compendium, this spell gives a Mindless undead an Int/Cha score, much like the druid spell awaken. In that book you will also find the undead lieutenant, undead torch, and iron bones spells. In combination, these will produce a badass undead.

If you want a small horde though, i'd just make one of them Badass and make it your Lieutenant. It ruins the impact if all the undead are the same. At least some should be mooks.

Start With Bigger Creatures

Giants, Outsiders, and Monstrous Humanoids all mostly have skeletons, can wear armour and carry weapons, and have great stats for how many HD they have.

Skeleton/Zombie is a Template

You might not be realizing, but the zombies and skeletons in the Monster Manual aren't just monsters, they are regular creatures and races with the skeleton or zombie template applied to them. A template is a set of modifications applied to a monster to change it from one thing into another (a Bugbear into a Bugbear Zombie or so forth).

Gear And Buffs

Undead are kinda like Fighters. They are good things to give magical armour and weapons to, and they are good things to cast Buffs on. Keep in mind though that due to the immunity to mind-affecting effects, stuff like heroism won't work on them. Also, enlarge person, etc, due to targeting restrictions. Haste, greater magic weapon, bull's strength and the like, that stuff works. Even dropping a protection from Good on your Skelebuddy before he charges into combat can be a great idea.


The Corpsecrafter line of feats (from Libris Mortis, the Book of the Dead), are fantastic for increasing the power of undead, and other than costing a feat, don't require extra spells or onyx or a control cap or anything, which is great. You can also do fun tricks like 'explosive undead bird bombs' and whatnot.

Favourable Battlefield Conditions

Dropping stuff like cloudkill or mind fog or antimagic field can really make your Undead a lot scarier, because they don't care at all about that stuff. Glitterdust and color spray away, causing chaos in enemy ranks while your undead stolidly advance.

Undead Leadership

It's a feat. You get undeads! Like regular leadership, but for intelligent undead, you get a small army of them. Wights, ghouls and the like. From Libris Mortis, the Book of the Dead.

More Ideas

Check this thread out!

Undead Troops in War

As any good Napoleonic-era general knows, the best way to force-multiply a whole bunch of 0-level peasants into a real fighting force is a damn good Bard. That bonus to attack or damage, (or, if they are draconic, sweet d6's of fire damage), goes a real long way when otherwise most of your dudes are rolling +1 to hit. But Undead are immune to morale effects. How do you deal with this? Requiem, a feat from again Libris Mortis, allows bardic music to affect the Undead. This is a) sweet as hell b) cool as hell. Awaken a dead Piper, and have him play haunting tunes as you fill the battlefield with fog and mist (that your undead don't care about) until your undeads are ripping some poor bastard's guts out. Talk about fear effects! That's an enemy army morale check right there.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan thanks for aweken undead its perfect for making them very good group leader and he can give order to the other while my chararcter will be away \$\endgroup\$
    – Pyersamid
    May 9, 2014 at 4:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yep, awaken and then undead lieutenant is a great and flavourful combo for the necromancer on the go. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2754
    May 9, 2014 at 5:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ One thing I'd like to note: You can't cast shield on your undead, because the spell has a range of Personal. \$\endgroup\$
    – DuckTapeAl
    May 10, 2014 at 15:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DuckTapeAl That's why you cast shield of faith instead. \$\endgroup\$
    – Firebreak
    Nov 26, 2014 at 16:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @user2754 Your "more ideas" link is dead \$\endgroup\$
    – Fering
    Aug 4, 2018 at 5:10

Animate Dread Warrior is what you are looking for

There are other good spells, and you aren’t going to want all your minions to be dread warriors as that would be quite expensive, but animate dread warrior gives you an undead minion that can do everything it could in life (albeit with penalties to Wisdom and Charisma). They make fantastic lieutenants in an undead army. You can find it in Unapproachable East.

For more ideas, this guide has tons of spell suggestions. They’re designed for a dread necromancer to pick up with Advanced Learning (basically, add a select few non-DN spells to your DN list), so anything that is natively on the dread necromancer spell list won’t be mentioned, but it’s still an awesome resource.

  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @Pyersamid Unapproachable East is copyrighted material and has not been released by Wizards of the Coast for public display. To reproduce the text of the spell or the template in full would be copyright infringement, and to link to a website that did so would be supporting that in a way that I don’t think is appropriate for this site to do. \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    May 9, 2014 at 3:44
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It is available for purchase as both a PDF and hardcover: rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/28722/… and amazon.com/…. They're about the same price...actually. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cthos
    May 9, 2014 at 13:22

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