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View Full Version : How smart is a skull without a brain?



Trekkin
2010-04-26, 07:04 PM
I am going to be playing a character capable of raising undead, and given the wide variety of things we've had to do in this campaign I am curious as to how intelligent skeletons are considered to be. Are there any published guidelines for how complex their orders can be, what they understand, and so forth?

Eldonauran
2010-04-26, 07:08 PM
Well, skeletons are mindless undead, same as zombie. Constructs share this trait too. They can only understand very simple commands.

Like:
Guard this door.
Guard me.
Stay here.


Not like:
Smash any humanoid that enters this door
Guard me against a charge attack
Remain here for 20 minutes

Temotei
2010-04-26, 07:08 PM
I am going to be playing a character capable of raising undead, and given the wide variety of things we've had to do in this campaign I am curious as to how intelligent skeletons are considered to be. Are there any published guidelines for how complex their orders can be, what they understand, and so forth?


A skeleton’s Dexterity increases by +2, it has no Constitution or Intelligence score, its Wisdom changes to 10, and its Charisma changes to 1.

A skeleton has no skills.

A skeleton loses all feats of the base creature and gains Improved Initiative.

Mindless. Their orders would have to be extremely simple, restricted to just about "attack" and "stop." Even then, the compulsion to do so will probably be magical.

Jack_Simth
2010-04-26, 07:10 PM
Not that I'm specifically familiar with - the description (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/monsters/skeleton.htm) says "A skeleton does only what it is ordered to do. It can draw no conclusions of its own and takes no initiative. Because of this limitation, its instructions must always be simple. A skeleton attacks until destroyed. "

But really, that is, of necessity, completely open-ended. You'd need to ask your DM.

As a DM, I'd generally be willing to treat it as knowing all the tricks under "Handle Animal" that it'd be able to carry out. Makes a good guideline, at least.

Mark Hall
2010-04-26, 07:12 PM
Skeletons do not have an intelligence score. I would go with a "two clause" rule. You can give them orders consisting of two clauses, no more.

"Kill anyone who comes in this room, unless they wear this badge."

"Move these boxes across the room."

"Follow the horse and keep the plow from falling over."

Paulus
2010-04-26, 07:53 PM
Dunno, lets ask this orc barbarian! Hey Gogtp, what's 2 plus 2?

"...." *smash with overly large hammer*



But seriously, I think they get compulsion enough for repetition, and instinct, otherwise how could they fight? Therefore I think it fair giving them a job such as what a low intelligence animal could understand would be acceptable. "Stay" or "Go" or "put this here. Again. Again. Don't stop." is the most complex you could get I would say.

Jason and the arggonauts would disagree as they face superior tactics... so I guess it is up to your campaign world, they may not have a brain, but they also don't have a heart... so why would they obey orders? Meh, it's kinda complicated actually, and I suppose it does more for "who is controlling them and how much will you give them" too much will like being able to think for themselves for advanced tactics and I thik they should fall prey to mind affecting abilities. Because they ma not have a brain, but they have a mind, sooo... depends really.

Ubercaledor
2010-04-26, 09:34 PM
it would depend on whether you considered them to be animated via a pseudo-soul or simply via direct magical instruction. If the pseudosoul was responsible, the necromancer would give it limited programing, e.g. "when X happens, Do Y", but if via direct magical instruction, the instructions would have to be more direct, and would not be able to have multiple instructions, e.g. "If anything moves, push your sword sharp-end-first into it's body... hard."

Il_Vec
2010-04-26, 09:37 PM
And don't get started on "what languages a skeleton understands", either.

Sowelu
2010-04-27, 04:41 AM
My game has a lot of zombies right now, so I'll answer based on zombies. They're far away from any necromancer to control them...but that's often the way things work anyway, because undead are great "fire and forget" defense mechanisms for ancient tombs. If you want something to wake up and beat on the party, undead are the way to go.

Zombies in my game have enough intelligence to handle "wander and kill living things" when there's a lot of them in a very wide area, and their wisdom seems to draw them together into something vaguely resembling groups that wander together. My zombies have a couple hundred square miles to explore, but there's LOTS AND LOTS of them. They can't see you at any kind of long range, but the necromancer's plan is that they would trip over the adventurers, maybe when they're sleeping, or just end up cornering them at a choke point.

Their nonexistent intelligence also lets them shamble up to this farmhouse that the PCs are hiding in and attempt to break through the door and boarded-up windows because, seriously, anyone who's watched a zombie movie knows that they're smart enough for that.

This is very important in my mind; I believe that mindless undead ARE capable of recognizing physical boundaries in their path and seeking to overcome them. If they're on a "go here / move this thing" order, I would expect the mindless undead to walk around the obstacle if possible, or stand still if impossible. If they're on a "kill this thing" order, I would expect the mindless undead to try and break the obstacle if it's not trivial to avoid it. Zombies and other slow critters are still quite vulnerable to kiting, even if any dumb animal might see a way to corner you.

My opinion is mixed on what'll happen when the PCs move to the heavily fortifiable tower with the massive wooden doors. I think I'm going to go with "they will be confused, and shamble around the base of the tower waiting for something fleshy to drop into their lap, and occasionally pound their meaty fists indiscriminately against stone and wood alike"--they have no way to recognize that any part of the tower is weaker than any other, and it's all so strong that there's really nothing obvious to do, but the "living thing" part of "kill living things" is strong enough to keep them from wandering off.

When it comes to altitude-based obstacles, I would say that enough zombies are capable of climbing over each other to climb over them, or to push each other off a cliff. Two or three human zombies couldn't climb up a six-foot wall, because they can't coordinate; but a hundred human zombies would press up against the wall and kind of turn each other into a ramp to climb, entirely through emergent behavior.

Blacky the Blackball
2010-04-27, 05:04 AM
I tend to treat skeletons as being a bit more intelligent than zombies - particularly when it comes to self-preservation, pathfinding, and motor skills.

Not that they're sapient at all - but they're normally portrayed as using weapons with a modicum of skill whereas zombies merely bash and claw mindlessly at opponents.

So I give them animal instincts. For example, a zombie will walk straight through fire, catching itself alight, if its opponent is at the other side; whereas a skeleton will at least have the instinct to go around the fire.

Similarly, a zombie underneath a ledge will simply moan and claw at the air trying to reach people on the ledge; but a skeleton will be able to actively climb up to the ledge to get at its opponents.

And when faced with a locked door and its target at the other side, a zombie will simply keep bashing at the door until it gives in, whereas a skeleton will actively look for another way in and only return to the door and start hacking at it if it doesn't find one.

hamishspence
2010-04-27, 05:10 AM
Another interesting question- if they become uncontrolled, the caster's control on them is broken, how do they behave?

Do they remain stationary until given further orders, only attacking if attacked?

Or do they wander aimlessly until something living crosses their path, upon which they will try to kill it?

Project_Mayhem
2010-04-27, 05:26 AM
Jason and the arggonauts [sic] would disagree as they face superior tactics...

Pretty sure I remember the skeletons in that just advancing menacingly, and then shrieking like girls and charging en mass

Gaiyamato
2010-04-27, 05:52 AM
Use Create Undead and the Corpse Creature template from the Book of Vile Darkness instead.
Keeps them intelligent and all.

Cast the Undead Lieutenant on them so they can command your mindless zombies you have made from Animate dead for you.
Perfect set-and-forget.

Better yet, be a wight or a wraith necromancer and get your spawn to control the animate dead zombies and superseed them by giving the Lieutenant Corpse Creatures the ability to command on your behalf. Good way to piss off your spawn though.


Another interesting question- if they become uncontrolled, the caster's control on them is broken, how do they behave?

Do they remain stationary until given further orders, only attacking if attacked?

Or do they wander aimlessly until something living crosses their path, upon which they will try to kill it?

Both.

They randomly wander around the area, leading them to possibly leave the area at some point - though randomly, and they attack anything living that comes near them. Unless before they became uncontrolled they were under existing orders. In that instance they keep to the old orders until the orders expire, which is usually never.

So it is possible to make a bunch of zombies and say "Attack all elves" and then leave them uncontrolled. So long as your not an elf it is cool.
lol.

Arakune
2010-04-27, 06:03 AM
Use Create Undead and the Corpse Creature template from the Book of Vile Darkness instead.
Keeps them intelligent and all.

Cast the Undead Lieutenant on them so they can command your mindless zombies you have made from Animate dead for you.
Perfect set-and-forget.

Better yet, be a wight or a wraith necromancer and get your spawn to control the animate dead zombies and superseed them by giving the Lieutenant Corpse Creatures the ability to command on your behalf. Good way to piss off your spawn though.



Both.

They randomly wander around the area, leading them to possibly leave the area at some point - though randomly, and they attack anything living that comes near them. Unless before they became uncontrolled they were under existing orders. In that instance they keep to the old orders until the orders expire, which is usually never.

So it is possible to make a bunch of zombies and say "Attack all elves" and then leave them uncontrolled. So long as your not an elf it is cool.
lol.

If you go with K's tome of necromancy, either the skeleton is totaly mindless and upon creation (without any default orders) it will:


Wander randomicaly and attack any living thing (negative energy is EEEVVVILLL)
Stay still in a 'stand by' manner (it's STILL a mindless construct, animated by negative energy instead of a elemental)

hamishspence
2010-04-27, 06:05 AM
Libris Mortis had "it's not just negative energy- there is a nearly mindless, malevolent spirit in there" as a justification for mindless undead being evil.

Mastikator
2010-04-27, 06:10 AM
I always figured that those who control mindless undead do it telepathically, and the undead can't understand any commands what so ever. And they can only be controlled magically, otherwise they just attack all living things relentlessly.
Intelligent undead like ghouls, can think and therefore understand orders, but mindless ones have to be precisely guided to take any action. You can make them carry things, move to places, attack people, but no standing orders, they have no memory.

Toliudar
2010-04-27, 01:02 PM
I always figured that those who control mindless undead do it telepathically, and the undead can't understand any commands what so ever.

The first sentence of the Animate Dead spell would seem to contradict this. (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/spells/animateDead.htm)

Irreverent Fool
2010-04-27, 01:26 PM
The first sentence of the Animate Dead spell would seem to contradict this. (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/spells/animateDead.htm)

If an evil cleric controls the undead by virtue of his class ability to do so, the commands can be mental (http://www.d20srd.org/srd/combat/specialAttacks.htm#turnOrRebukeUndead) instead.

I tend to go with the "crawling darkness" option put forth in the K's Tome of Necromancy (http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75882/19527634/Tome_of_Necromancy). It includes guidelines for how mindless undead behave when given no orders and answers a lot of these questions in a way that I feel is reasonable. Moreover, it means I don't have to answer them all myself. :smallbiggrin:

obnoxious
sig

Volthawk
2010-04-27, 01:29 PM
Another interesting question- if they become uncontrolled, the caster's control on them is broken, how do they behave?

Do they remain stationary until given further orders, only attacking if attacked?

Or do they wander aimlessly until something living crosses their path, upon which they will try to kill it?

Maybe they keep on doing what they were ordered to do, until they fall apart.

~LuckyBoneDice~
2010-04-27, 02:06 PM
I say that depends on how hard I hit it with my greatclub

Irreverent Fool
2010-04-27, 02:14 PM
Maybe they keep on doing what they were ordered to do, until they fall apart.

I think they default to wandering until they spot the nearest source of life and make efforts to snuff it out. Unless what they were ordered to do was directly related to this. Again, this depends on whether you view undead as constructs animated by negative energy or as inherently evil things that are only kept in check by the will of some spellcaster or another.

obnoxious
sig

Mark Hall
2010-04-27, 03:15 PM
Maybe they keep on doing what they were ordered to do, until they fall apart.

That's the answer given by Planescape: Torment.

Mewtarthio
2010-04-27, 03:41 PM
Twenty-odd replies with a topic title like this and nobody thought to bring up Murray, the all-powerful demonic skull (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9xLoTXC5fk&NR=1)? For shame. :smallannoyed:

Starbuck_II
2010-04-27, 03:48 PM
Maybe they keep on doing what they were ordered to do, until they fall apart.

MM says this exactly. I'm surprised people don't read the MM anymore.

Mark Hall
2010-04-27, 04:15 PM
Twenty-odd replies with a topic title like this and nobody thought to bring up Murray, the all-powerful demonic skull (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9xLoTXC5fk&NR=1)? For shame. :smallannoyed:

Morte was cooler.

Paulus
2010-04-28, 03:31 PM
Pretty sure I remember the skeletons in that just advancing menacingly, and then shrieking like girls and charging en mass

They advanced in formation, charged to break the enemy line, separated and used group tactics to overwhelm, coordinated strikes, adapted to changing terrain and combat style, and finally bravely continued to follow their orders even to the point of following Jason off the cliff. Their tactics and ferocity is part and parcel to what led to Jason's defeat and subsequent escape.

Hail the nobles bones! Of course they WERE the raised bodies of those who had fought the hydra and died, therefore they weren't your average skellies. You'd have to consider anyone strong enough to even get to the golden fleece to be pretty good. It's no wonder the others fell to them if you think about it like that. Like fighting a platoon of undead Jasons!

Project_Mayhem
2010-04-28, 04:24 PM
None of that refutes the shrieking like girls point

Tetsubo 57
2010-04-28, 05:02 PM
Libris Mortis had "it's not just negative energy- there is a nearly mindless, malevolent spirit in there" as a justification for mindless undead being evil.

The Negative Plane is not evil. How can something without a mind, fueled by that energy have an alignment? It can't make moral decisions. Which is pretty much how you fall onto one side or the other of the Good/Evil axis.

BeholderMage
2010-04-28, 09:33 PM
Well, skeletons are mindless undead, same as zombie. Constructs share this trait too. They can only understand very simple commands.

Like:
Guard this door.
Guard me.
Stay here.


Not like:
Smash any humanoid that enters this door
Guard me against a charge attack
Remain here for 20 minutes

Actually, I'm pretty sure mindless undead are capable of following all but the last command. And even then, if you put an hourglass and said "remain here until the sand fills the bottom", it might be follow-able.

I like Mark Hall's two clause idea.

deuxhero
2010-04-28, 09:35 PM
Actually, I'm pretty sure mindless undead are capable of following all but the last command. And even then, if you put an hourglass and said "remain here until the sand fills the bottom", it might be follow-able.

I like Mark Hall's two clause idea.

But what do they do when they no longer "remain here"?

BeholderMage
2010-04-28, 10:28 PM
depends on the nature of undeath in your game.

In a Crawling Darkness model, they hunger for life, and when left uncontrolled, or otherwise to their own devices, they will ravenously and singlemindedly attack the nearest source of life, seeking it out if they cannot see it.

In a Playing with Fire model, undeath is at least nominally neutral, and an uncontrolled skeleton or zombie really doesn't do much of anything. So in this case it's more likely a "remain here until I give you another command" or "when the sand runs out, attack the first thing you see, then stop."

Lysander
2010-04-28, 10:53 PM
The Animate Dead description implies what they can and cannot do:



The undead can follow you, or they can remain in an area and attack any creature (or just a specific kind of creature) entering the place.

You can either lead them somewhere, or leave them as guards. Since it isn't mentioned it seems you can't send them off on missions without you, other than telling them to follow and attack someone they see. So no "travel along this road to this place and wait for me there"

They are smart enough to identify specific types of creatures. I would extend that to allow them to identify specific objects too. So you can tell them to "break down the door" and they'll know what you're talking about.

Command Undead also has some guidelines:


When you control a mindless being, you can communicate only basic commands, such as “come here,” “go there,” “fight,” “stand still,” and so on.

As for non-combat usage, I would limit mindless undead to doing what an Unseen Servant can do (but allowing for their greater strength). Those are also mindless:


It can run and fetch things, open unstuck doors, and hold chairs, as well as clean and mend. The servant can perform only one activity at a time, but it repeats the same activity over and over again if told to do so...

Other than for automatic sensory checks like Spot and Listen I would also impose this unseen servant condition on them:


It can’t perform any task that requires a skill check with a DC higher than 10 or that requires a check using a skill that can’t be used untrained.

I also wouldn't let them use any Int based skill check. Just makes sense.

Gaiyamato
2010-04-28, 11:57 PM
MM says this exactly. I'm surprised people don't read the MM anymore.

Yes the MM and Libris Mortis make a very clear definition for how they behave.

Which is why I said exactly that that is what they do.



if(Undead.hasOrders())
{
Undead.action(Undead.getOrders());
Undead.attack(Undead.getAttackTarget());
}
else
{
Undead.action(Undead.moveRandomly());
Undead.attack(Location.NEAREST_LIVING_THING);
}

Aotrs Commander
2010-04-29, 06:18 AM
Yes the MM and Libris Mortis make a very clear definition for how they behave.

Which is why I said exactly that that is what they do.



if(Undead.hasOrders())
{
Undead.action(Undead.getOrders());
Undead.attack(Undead.getAttackTarget());
}
else
{
Undead.action(Undead.moveRandomly());
Undead.attack(Location.NEAREST_LIVING_THING);
}



That is both beautiful and hilarious. (And also the interpretation I take.)

~LuckyBoneDice~
2010-04-29, 01:10 PM
if(Undead.hasOrders())
{
Undead.action(Undead.getOrders());
Undead.attack(Undead.getAttackTarget());
}
else
{
Undead.action(Undead.moveRandomly());
Undead.attack(Location.NEAREST_LIVING_THING);
}



clever....simply clever

Mark Hall
2010-04-29, 01:11 PM
But what do they do when they no longer "remain here"?

"Follow me when the sand runs out of this glass."

Starbuck_II
2010-04-29, 01:21 PM
Yes the MM and Libris Mortis make a very clear definition for how they behave.

Which is why I said exactly that that is what they do.



if(Undead.hasOrders())
{
Undead.action(Undead.getOrders());
Undead.attack(Undead.getAttackTarget());
}
else
{
Undead.action(Undead.moveRandomly());
Undead.attack(Location.NEAREST_LIVING_THING);
}



Whoa, that isn't what MM says. Let us now get ahead of ourselves.

Part one of your code is MM details, but not part 2 (no attack every lving thing mentioned). You've been watching too many movies.

~LuckyBoneDice~
2010-04-29, 01:23 PM
Whoa, that isn't what MM says. Let us now get ahead of ourselves.

Part one of your code is MM details, but not part 2 (no attack every lving thing mentioned). You've been watching too many movies.

I have plans in case of a Zombie Apocolypse, which includes a 24 pack of Mickey's Malt Liquor, a deer rifle, and a lawn chair

hamishspence
2010-04-29, 01:32 PM
More Libris Mortis than MM.

MM doesn't say much about zombies, but it does say skeletons "take no initiative" suggesting that they, at least, do nothing without orders, even uncontrolled. Except maybe defend themselves if attacked.

Libris Mortis's "Atrocity calls to unlife" is probably the closest thing to a D&D source that suggests zombies and the like thirst to kill the living:

"Evil acts can resonate in multiple dimensions, opening cracks in reality and letting the blight seep in. A sufficiently heinous act may attract the attention of malicious spirits, bodiless and seeking to house themselves in flesh, especially recently vacated vessels. Such spirits are often little more than nodes of unquenchable hunger, wishing only to feed. These comprise many of the mindless undead."

Aside from skeletons and zombies, just how many mindless undead are there?

Starbuck_II
2010-04-29, 01:50 PM
Aside from skeletons and zombies, just how many mindless undead are there?

I believe Bloodhulks MM 4 are mindless.
Wrackspawn are mindless.
Ashen Husk in Sandstorm are mindless .
Charnel Hound MM3 mindless.
Plague spewer MM 3 mindless.

I'd look for more but I'm having a exam soon and shouldn't be goofing off too much. :smallbiggrin:

hamishspence
2010-04-29, 02:40 PM
Which raises the question- why do people complain so much about Neutral Evil skeletons and zombies, but not about other mindless undead being Evil?

(Also, I've remember Revived Fossils in Libris Mortis are mindless- basically, fossilized versions of skeletons).

Knaight
2010-04-29, 05:08 PM
Because they are better known.

Paulus
2010-04-29, 05:34 PM
None of that refutes the shrieking like girls point

*shrug* why should I refute it? They could have been girls. I'd hate to fight skeleton amazons, especially since they pretty much beat all the argonaughts no matter how they sounded.

Project_Mayhem
2010-04-29, 05:55 PM
It just killed the mood for me. I can only take stop motion so seriously anyway.