Fox’s Cunning — Summon Dex: Undead (Book of the Dead Update)

Please pardon the sudden topic necromancy, but with Book of the Dead we find ourselves needing to re-evaluate our Summon-Dex! Now this update is going to only apply to options in Park 4: Undead, and that article will be updated as soon as this post goes live, in case you want to compare existing options to

Summon-Dex Navigation:

Part 1: Summon Animal (arcane, primal)
Part 2: Abberations (occult)/Constructs & Dragons (arcane)/Giants & Plants (primal)
Part 3: Celestials (divine)/Fey (occult, primal)/Elementals (arcane, primal)
Part 4: Undead (arcane, divine, occult)/Fiend (divine)
Part 5: Lesser Divine Servitor/Anarch/Axiom (divine)
Part 6: Book of the Dead (undead update)

Reanimator Dedication & Feats

The Reanimator Archetype gives characters looking to cast animate dead a multitude of options that helps bolster a spell that can otherwise become quickly outclassed by other options. Note that three feats on the Reanimator Archetype page can be taken by characters without the archetype as they are also class feats for various spellcasting classes, including the Cleric, Oracle, and Wizard. Any other spellcasters, including sorcerers, will have to take the archetype to qualify for those feats!

★★★★☆ Reanimator Dedication (Feat 2) — Just by itself this is a solid feat. Usually getting an additional signature spell is half of a feat, and granting a +1 status bonus to your undead summons is solid (even if it requires carrying around bones and/or targeting recently deceased enemies). I like having a feat that encourages me to use my enemy’s remains and dungeon-dressing rather than spamming the same “best summon at this level” each combat.
★☆☆☆☆ Undying Conviction (Feat 4) — In the right type of campagin this can be useful, but most enemies don’t use positive damage and most NPCs don’t have any way to control your undead minions. Then again, you might be playing an AP that assumes everyone is undead…
★★★☆☆ Deathly Secrets (Feat 6) — Additional focus spells aren’t bad. Subjugate Undead is great for controlling undead you create with Create Undead, especially if you get a critical failure or only a success on an intelligent undead who doesn’t want to help you. Eyes of the Dead is the exploration mode option, letting you effectively scout ahead with your undead minion. I’d only give this focus spell 1 star, but would be much more useful if you could cast Final Sacrifice on the minion while controlling it, but a combination of line of effect and the focus spell saying you can’t cast spells while it is active makes that combo unviable.
★★★★★ Macabre Virtuoso (Feat 6) — Create Undead is a really good ritual and being able to get permanent minions is incredibly potent, but isn’t really a “summon”.
★★★★☆ Bonds of Death (Feat 8) — Free Sustain is great. Free sustain on two summons for a minute is excellent.
★★★☆☆ Greater Deathly Secrets (Feat 10) — malignant sustenance gives fast healing 7 to an undead, which is great on an undead PC and okay on a minion. Grasping grave only does 6d6 damage and only hits targets on the ground, but can immobilize enemies on a critical failure. Compare with elemental burst, which has different areas, damage types, and does two more dice of damage. Thematically it’s still a really cool spell!
★★★★★ Master of the Dead (Feat 12) —This spell is really boss. It effectively gives you a free minion every day as long as you spend three-actions at least every 10-minutes, depending on your refocusing actions and exploration choices. The nature of the minion will vary dramatically, but the fact you are hitting corpses that (presumably) challenged you in an encounter you will likely be able to procure minions a level higher than what you’d get casting casting Animate Dead. It can’t be used on your first encounter each day (unless you get lucky and there’s a dead body around that recently died), but the ability to tack on certain monster abilities onto your skeleton/zombie is just so much fun that I don’t mind! And since it’s a 3-action cast, you can always cast it during the first encounter on an enemy who has died!
★★★★☆ Necromancer’s Visage (Feat 12) — This is a very campaign-dependant feat and in an undead heavy campaign it is very, very good. It will depend entirely on how much undead is in your campaign.
★★★★★ Sepulchral Sublimation (Feat 14signature spell) — This spell is so much fun! The level is skewed in such a way that you will be casting much lower level spells with the minion you sacrifice, but being able to turn minions who are about to dust at the end of an encounter into spells that can help in the post-encounter clean-up is very strong! This can also let you sacrifice undead minions from Create Undead or Master of the Dead! This is especially note-worthy for Master of the Dead since it let’s you convert Focus Points into daily spell slots!

Animate Dead (Arcane, Divine, Occult)

While technically not a “summon” spell, the spell shares enough similarities that we can compare it’s minion selection alongside other conjuration spells. Note that with this review I am assuming that minions are unaffected by the Slow condition because of how they get actions, but you can effectively downgrade most minions that are permanently slowed by 1 or 2 stars.

Home Rule: I would tentatively allow casters to spend up to two actions to give a zombie minion up to two actions. Or you can allow zombies the second action if the caster summons the creature with the spell heightened above what it needs to be to summon that variety of zombie.

Spell 1:

★★★★☆ Predatory Rabbit (BD) — Good Controller. Memes aside, you are summoning this for Stench. Decent AC and  the bonus to disease spells is good too. Sense Companion has some niche but potentially delicious uses if you are tracking someone down and only have their dead pet.

Heightened (2nd):

★★★★☆ Scorned Hound (BD) — Strong Striker. Animating your enemy’s loyal companion gives you a very solid striker. Also great in exploration mode using create undead or master of death to track someone down.
★★★★☆ Skeletal Soldier (BD) — Strong Tank/Striker. Good resistances, a ranged, reach, and melee weapon. The glaive also has deadly. And you can use this to effectively summon an armory incase your fighter really needs a weapon. Set Defense isn’t really useful as a minion.
★★★☆☆ Festering Gnasher (BD) — Decent Niche Striker. Having a fly speed at this level isn’t bad. Brain rot is too slow to be viable.
★★☆☆☆ Mummified Cat (BD) — Niche Striker. The damage is okay for a Creature 0, but you probably want a Creature 1 at this spell level. Climb speed and scent are neat. Aura of Repose can be useful if you can pick this minion up for days at a time.
★☆☆☆☆ Wolf Skeleton (BD) — Poor Tank. Decent Mount (+2 stars) with Surge of Speed and Knockdown isn’t bad. The resistances and AC make it decent, if only it had Creature 1 stats.
☆☆☆☆☆ Zombie Snake (BD) — Terrible Debuffer. It’s permanently slowed. Stats are mediocre (it’ll get crit all day long). Filth Fever takes 1d4 hours to take effect.

Heightened (3rd):

★★★★★ Shredskin (BD) — Amazing Single-Target Controller. Decent damage and a constrict ability. Compression and a fly speed are a plus. Enshroud is solid. Control Body has some niche utility.
★★★★☆ Lacedon (BD) — Amazing Multi-Target Cnotroller. Paralyzing Spew is an incredible debuff. Solid swim speed and corpse scent are useful in water. Only 4 stars because the DC doesn’t scale so its only really useful for the first level and it has the incapacitation trait.
★★★☆☆ Husk Zombie (BD) — Decent Striker. It is slow, but it has a very high attack and sneak attack. If it can use sudden surge it becomes a 4-star for the single combat auto-flat-footed plus action surge, but it’s turn never really “begins” as a minion.
★★★☆☆ Decrepit Mummy (BD) — Decent Striker. The mummy we have at home. Fun for long-term disease spreading I suppose, but Crumbling Form hurts. It does have decent damage, and theoretically is great for translating stuff thanks to its language entry!

Heightened (4th):

★★★★☆ Fiddling Bones(BD) — Good Controller. Dance with Death is why you’ll summon this. Destructive Finale has a high DC for this level. Theater Lore and summoned instruments can be useful.
★★★★☆ Combusted (BD) — Good Striker: AoE and Persistant Damage plus Intense Heat means the Combusted will throw solid damage.
★★★☆☆ Deathless Acolyte of Urgathoa (BD) — Decent Spellcaster Healer. Especially for undead PCs, the fast healing and being able to cast Harm three times is really good. If you have a non-undead in the party they can benefit too using Touch of Undeath.

★★☆☆☆ Zombie Owlbear (BD) — Mediocre Debuff Tank. Stats are good, but it is slowed. Grab is good. Ground Slam will require a critical success on Grab. Horrifying Screech is a nice debuff for a single-action.


Heightened (5th):

★★★★★ Taunting Skill (BD) — Amazing Tank. Incessant Goading is everything we’ve wanted in a monster. The fact it’s a single action means the creature can goad two creatures at once (or try to goad the same creature twice), assuming reach works. How it’s worded infers that a creature will even have to strike the skull if it moves into reach, so you can tactically place your skull between yourself and your target to make them go for your minion instead. It’s Jaws damage is decent.
★★★★☆ Ghul (BD) — Good Striker Controller. High hit points, fire resistance, a climb speed, Grab, persistant bleed, and the ability to fascinate everyone within 60-foot is very nice (watch out for allies). It also comes with a planar language!
★★★★☆ Iruxi Ossature (BD) Good Controller and Iruxi Buffer. Terrain Advantage gives it a very high effective attack modifier for its level. Fossil Fury is why you summon this, letting you create a 30-foot cone of difficult terrain. 5-Stars in an Iruxi Party and Territory, where it can give everyone +1 status. Even without the status bonus, Totem of the Past will Dazzle. Technically you could build a wall using downtime if you are an Iruxi player. Swim speed and lifesense are great. Twilight Spark means you can summon it even against undead with a pesky allied cleric who spams positive energy.
★★★★☆ Priest of Kabriri (BD) — Good Caster. Touch of Undeath to two party members will let him (and you) heal more targets with Harm. Chilling Darkness and Silence are solid niche spells. Paralysis is a nice rider if you can hit any low-Fort creatures.
★★★★☆ Skeletal Mage (BD) — Good Caster. Lightning Bolt, Magic Missile, Paralyze, Acid Arrow, Enlarge and Grease are all solid spells. He has enough spells that he can cast every round and has the resistances needed to survive a couple rounds.
★☆☆☆☆ Withered (BD) — Mediocre Striker. It only does decent damage with sneak and even then it’s not the best on the list. You’ll have to talk to your GM about using Sudden Surge, but that would make it a 2-star monster.


Heightened (6th):

★☆☆☆☆ Beetle Carapace (BD) — Poor Niche Utility Controller. Grab and construct aren’t bad, but it’s weaker than a Revenant at it. The abdomen cache makes this a potential exploration mode utility minion.
★☆☆☆☆ Hungry Ghost (BD) — Poor Damage Dealer. Incorporeal and flight are fine, but Feed on the Living isn’t great. It can potentially do ‘save damage’ instead of ‘to hit damage’, but you can’t delay it for a full minute as a summoned minion.

Heightened (7th):

★★★★★ Geist (BD) — Great Niche Utility Debuffer. Being able to turn off a Haunt for a round is a fabulous unique ability and is probably the reason the Geist is banned in Organized Play. Telepathy, flight, incorporeality, and terrifying laugh are also solid.
★★★☆☆ Daqqanoenyent (BD) — Decent Controller. Grab plus Snatch is great against non-fliers (falling damage). Baleful Gaze is a solid AoE frightened effect.
★★★☆☆ Raw Nerve (BD) — Decent Utility. Electricty damage is hard to get using Animate Dead. Stopping reactions is useful. Thoughtsense, telepathy, and a +20 Lore are all useful.
★★☆☆☆  Vetalarana Emergent (BD) — Poor Niche Utility. Grab is okay and thoughtsense is neat, but the best use for this monster is draining thoughts which is very GM dependent.
★☆☆☆☆ Ghost Pirate Captain (BD) — Whiel incorporeal and capable of using Combat Current to do some decent negative damage, ultimately the only real use this monster has is for its sailing lore. Curse Ye Scallywags! might work if you have a very giving GM.
☆☆☆☆☆ Drake Skeleton (BD) — Terrible Striker. While it can attack three times the damage isn’t that great and Fragile Wings makes it a terrible mount.

Heightened (8th):

★★★★☆ Unrisen (BD) — Great Niche Utility. Death Grip gives you a way to potentially make more undead, just make sure you have a way to control them. Awful Approach throws out Sickened. Agonized Howl is a pretty good AoE. Best use of this undead is against a positive energy caster, so he is better in an undead campaign.
★★★☆☆ Corpseroot (BD) — Niche Tank. Great against plants. Branch does decent damage, but you’ll likely want to grab. Huge!
★★★☆☆ Provincial Jian-Shi (BD) — Decent Caster. Can cast harm (×7), spirit blast, vampiric exsanguination, shadow blast, enervation, ghostly tragedy (×2), bind undead, and fear (×3). Drain Qi has some uses. Can speak Tien. Breathsense (precise) is useful.
★☆☆☆☆ Zombie Mammoth (BD) — Poor Controller. Improved Grab on a huge creature with 15-foot reach is solid. Constrict and trample aren’t bad. Permanent slow is bad. -1 Star if your GM decides the trunk doesn’t move when severed.


Heightened (9th):

★★★☆☆ Vanyver (BD) — Great Niche Spellcaster. Banned in PFS. Being able to cast ten Dispel Magic-like effects with Drain Magic during the minute you have this guy is insane. The pull effect and enfeebled on entropy’s shadow is solid. Sunlight powerlessness makes the vanyvr’s environment dependent. Drain Magic can be very powerful. Can cast plane shift (to Material Plane; Negative Energy Plane; or Shadow Plane only), dispel magic (at will), harm (×3), darkness, see invisibility. Has telepathy (100 feet), Lifesense, and Negative Energy/Shadow Plane Lore!
★★☆☆☆ Silent Stalker (BD) —Decent Niche Utility. A 10-foot aura of silence that can move around the battlefield isn’t bad. The best use for this is summoning a murder victim to hunt down their murderer, which is very GM dependent.
☆☆☆☆☆ Llorona (BD) — Poor Controller. Wail can stun each living creature within 120 feet, but you are more likely to stun your party and even then it has incapacitation. Funeral Touch can drain, but that’s also underwhelming.
☆☆☆☆☆ Skeletal Titan (BD) — Bad Controller Tank. It can take a couple hits. It can create areas of difficult terrain, but it can’t use mountain slam as a summoned creature and it only affects one square per action. 20-squares of difficult terrain is not worth a 9th-level spell slot.


Heightened (10th):

★★★★☆ Sykever (BD) —Banned in PFS. Graining Gaze is a solid debuff. It can cast splent of spells including harm (×3), paralyze, plane shift (to Material Plane; Negative Energy Plane; or Shadow Plane only), true seeing, darkness (at will), invisibility (×3). Entropy’s Shadow is a nice constant AoE aura. Watch out for Sunlight Powerlessness.
★★★★☆ Tormented (BD) — Great Striker AoE. Banned in PFS. Tortured Gaze can inflict Slowed 1, negate concealment, knock enemies prone, or even do 8d4 persistent bleed damage in a 30-foot aura with a decent saving throw! Plus it can use Scream of Agony and will likely recharge it each round if it takes a crit, easily letting it stick around for 3 rounds and potentially doing 32d6 mental damage plus the triple rounds of endless suffering (assuming your opponent’s try to attack them).
★★★☆☆ Hollow Serpent (BD) — Good AoE Control Striker. Desiccation Aura is your reason fro summoning the Hollow Serpent. Slithering Strike and Improved Grab are both solid, and vampiric exsanguination is a good AoE spell.
★☆☆☆☆ Gallowdead (BD) — Poor Striker. Aura of Frightened isn’t bad, but 3d8+4d6+14 damage isn’t going to cut it. Chain Capture and Gallow Curse don’t work on summons. You can flip off Tar-Baphon when you summon them, which is fun. And +2 striking spiked chain incase your fighter loses their weapon, I guess?
★☆☆☆☆ Minister Of Tumult (BD) — Poor Striker. It can use Bone Corpse Stance to make a target potentially fall prone if they Stride after they are striked if you use Drain Qi, but that takes a full round of set-up and only lasts one round and involves an attack roll and a save.


Dustin Knight

Dustin has been playing and improving on RPGs since AD&D in 1999. He ran games and conventions around California while studying Graphic Design, Philosophy, English & Architecture. After developing a tabletop game seminar he began working freelance for Alderac Entertainment Games. During his stint on the East Coast, he became a Venture Lieutenant and began reviewing Pathfinder mechanics for Organized Play. After moving to Washington in 2019, he met Alex Augunas at Paizocon and developed, designed and wrote for Everybody Games LLC. He has since published work with Rogue Genius Games and Paizo. He can be found on the Know Direction discord where he goes by the username "KitsuneWarlock".