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Can a good cleric summon skeleton warriors?

Hello, friends. I just finished a play session where I let Branwen use her Animate Dead spells to summon a small army of four skeleton warriors to decimate the sirens on the west coast. I also used the two she had at the time to beat Davaeorn by drawing out his Fireball and Lightning Bolt spells harmlessly against the skellies while the party waited.

I've never really used the cleric Animate Dead spell much before, because I always play good clerics. I decided to let Branwen do it this time because of her neutral alignment, and because her Tempus seems like a deity that would allow the use of dead warrior spirits to his clerics if any god would, other than the obvious "Dead Three", Kelemvor, and most evil deities.

I still felt guilty. It felt like giving in to the Dark Side. Also, good clerics of the actual deities represented in the vanilla game without mods are supposed to be of either Tyr or Lathander. Surely Lathander would not condone Animating Dead skellie warriors, much less give such a spell to his clerics. Maybe Tyr would. Maybe. What about Helm? I think Helm would do it before Lathander or Tyr, because skellie warriors make good guardians, and the protection of all guardians and their duties is his main portfolio. Talos probably couldn't care less, but armies of skeletons don't seem to be his style. (Blast enemies with storms of flame and lightning, not raising undead armies.)

So, I'd like to hear your justifications and rationalizations, if you use Animate Dead with your good clerics. Also, please justify the deity you imagine granting Animate Dead spells to his or her clerics being consistent with FR lore to do that.

I think @Vallmyr and @Dee might be especially interested in this topic.

JuliusBorisovGoturalgorgonzolaDreadKhan
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Comments

  • VallmyrVallmyr Member, Mobile Tester Posts: 2,361
    By rules I think in 2e they can but in 3e/3.5e good aligned clerics cannot cast animate dead due to its evil descriptor. In 5e they can again as it has lost the evil descriptor so depends on edition I suppose.

    RP-wise Neutral and Evil Clerics would probably be ok with animate dead, other than Kelemvor of course. Good Clerics I think would very rarely if ever cast it.

    I could imagine re-flavoring of it. Kelemvor does get a special version of animate dead called The Dead March if I recall. Tempus would probably allow warriors to fight after death for the glory of battle.

    BelgarathMTHJuliusBorisovlolien
  • subtledoctorsubtledoctor Member Posts: 11,131
    Our sphere system mod will be out soon, it will make sure that the only people summoning skeleton armies are clerics of deities that have some particular focus on Death. None of the vanilla kits can summon skeleton warriors. (But we add a few kits who can. :smile: )

    https://forums.beamdog.com/discussion/comment/670841/#Comment_670841

    BelgarathMTHJuliusBorisovlolien
  • mf2112mf2112 Member, Moderator Posts: 1,919
    I look at it as my clerics or mages are giving someone who was likely unjustly killed by the evil jerk in the next room a chance for vengeance.

    BelgarathMTHleeuxsemiticgod
  • lunarlunar Member Posts: 3,375
    Creating non-sentient undead like zombies or skeletons to fight for a good cause is not evil, however it is not looked upon as good, either. Neutral fits best. Good gods will frown upon it, and some anti-undead gods like Lathander or Kelemvor will not allow it, but other good gods may allow in the direst of circumstances, as long as it is not abused and the remains of the dead are revered afterwards.

    Creating sentient undead like ghouls, ghasts, wights, or vampires is pure evil, no questions there. They have bits of their memories (or all of them, in case of the dreaded vampire) and they have to kill other living beings for nourishment, it is their unholy nature.

    JuliusBorisovlolienBelgarathMTH
  • mlnevesemlnevese Member, Moderator Posts: 9,307
    Animating undead is mostly evil. If the person donated his body in defense of his faith it's not evil. The person wished to be able to help in some way and the family is aware of it.

    If it's done just because you need some tool for a task it is evil. Just imagine how you'd feel if some wizard/cleric animated the body of your mother just because he needs a bodyguard...

    JuliusBorisovBelgarathMTHsemiticgod
  • DeeDee Member Posts: 10,447
    @mlnevese I'm not sure about that.

    If it's not evil to cast Animate Dead on the corpse of someone who gave you permission to animate their corpse, then the act itself of casting Animate Dead can't be evil. If it were, then most hostile spells would fall into the same category. "Asking permission" is something you do with your friends, not your enemies. If you animate the corpse of a fallen enemy to serve you in fighting your other enemies, that's a decidedly hostile action, but it's not evil by definition.

    At the end of the day, what part of it is evil?

    That a creature is being made to fight its own allies? Charm and compulsion spells like Charm Person and Dominate Monster are spells that also do that.

    That a creature is being animated against its will? There are plenty of offensive spells that can affect a target against its will.

    That it's a necromancy spell? In 2e, all healing spells are also necromancy.

    That it creates an undead creature? Again, this depends on the setting. If the setting holds that all skeletons and zombies are inherently evil, then yeah, creating a skeleton or a zombie, even one that you control, is probably evil. But if the setting doesn't define them that way, it's not much different from any other monster summoning.

    A necromancer can be any alignment; that means that the spells a necromancer casts are not inherently good or evil; they're simply tools that the necromancer uses to get the job done. And if necromancy spells have no alignment (they have one in 3e, but they don't in 2e), then a cleric should have no moral imperative not to use them. You might not want to use them, you might find them grisly and horrifying, your specific patron might have rules in their dogma about not casting them, but that doesn't mean another cleric of the same alignment couldn't make a different decision about them.

    JuliusBorisovlolienVallmyrBelgarathMTH
  • mlnevesemlnevese Member, Moderator Posts: 9,307
    edited April 2016
    @Dee The spell itself is neutral . it's just creating a tool. It's the intention that will determine if its use is good or evil. In my example, you are not violating someone who wished to be animated by doing so. The family may even be proud grandma is now a part of the temple's defense.

    Charm spells are complicated but in the end I think they are all essentially evil. You're basically making someone your slave, even if for a moment, with no chance to revolt and, sometimes, not even a chance to realize they are slaves until the spell ends.

    JuliusBorisovBelgarathMTH
  • subtledoctorsubtledoctor Member Posts: 11,131
    Well, Charm spells aren't actually supposed to make someone a slave; Charm Person's effect is *supposed* to be closer to Friends than to Dominate. This is yet another thing that the vanilla game gets pretty wrong, which mods are trying to correct.

    On Animate Dead, it messes with the natural order of things, which even non-druidish deities care about.

    Further, it's not just a simple matter of "here are some inanimate bones, I will now telekinetically control them." If that was the case, why not animate sticks, or stones, make a temporary golem of some sort? But there is no such low-level spell to animate a golem-type construct, it's much more difficult. (Though, this is another thing my mid addresses :tongue: ) So we have to assume the fact that the skeleton/zombie was once alive makes it easier to animate. Which means you are in fact tapping and manipulating some kind of life essence. Look at wizards: necromancy is specifically different from Transmutation.

    Further, even mindless undead are not telekinetically-controlled constructs. They have some amount of awareness, cognizance.

    So I definitely think it's on the evil side of neutral. Or at any rate, on the "morbidly curious/unethical experimenting" side of things. Which means to me, it is the domain of wizards. On the cleric side of things, I think it's more about theme than good/evil. Lathander and Helm would not include animating the dead in their clerics' repertoires of abilities. They focus on using other means to achieve their goals. The same is really true of Talos, as well. Evil gods like Talos or Malar wouldn't tend to use undead to reach their goals. Shar might, and Cyric/Myrkul certainly would. And I suppose Kelemvor might, on the good side.

    tl;dr: it's about themes more than alignment. That's why a sphere system.

    mlneveseBelgarathMTH
  • mf2112mf2112 Member, Moderator Posts: 1,919
    mlnevese said:

    @Dee The spell itself is neutral . it's just creating a tool. It's the intention that will determine if its use is good or evil. In my example, you are not violating someone who wished to be animated by doing so. The family may even be proud grandma is now a part of the temple's defense.

    Charm spells are complicated but in the end I think they are all essentially evil. You're basically making someone your slave, even if for a moment, with no chance to revolt and, sometimes, not even a chance to realize they are slaves until the spell ends.

    I agree with intention. I never use skellies as simple shields. I create a group and buff them up before sending them off. I assume that I am raising ones that are okay with being raised else they would turn on me. And I am always there fighting with them, they are a temporary part of the team. I don't just watch them.

    mlneveseBelgarathMTH
  • VallmyrVallmyr Member, Mobile Tester Posts: 2,361
    I adore conversations like these. As always, @Dee has the most insightful information.

    So I'd like to point to a lawful good paladin necromancer I made. Milly Vex, Gnome Paladin/Bone Knight (Bone Knight is a prestige class from Eberron).

    @Dee if this is copyright infringement at all just say. I'm going to list the requirements and a class feature of the Bone Knight from "Five Nations" page 117.

    Requirements are:

    Base Attack Bonus: +4
    Skills: Craft (armorsmithing) 6 ranks , Knowledge (religion) 4 ranks , Ride 6 ranks
    Special: Ability to turn or rebuke undead.
    Special: Ability to cast 1st-level divine spells.

    One "feature" of the class is

    "Paladin Conversion: If you were a paladin or ex-paladin before becoming a bone knight, you can never again advance levels as a paladin, since your association with the undead forever taints you. However, you retain (or regain) certain paladin abilities, including divine grace, lay on hands, aura of courage, divine health, and spellcasting. You cannot detect or smite evil or remove disease. You can use your lay on hands ability to cure living or undead creatures. You lose the service of your special mount (but see the summon skeletal steed ability, below)."

    So Milly had a skeleton mount and had another class feature to animate skeletons. None of this caused her to fall as the class feature didn't have the "evil" descriptor and none of the requirements needed you to be evil. She crusaded for great justice using the remains of fallen enemies to bolster her team's ranks and defeat them. She never swayed from being lawful good at all. Justification is she was a Paladin of Jergal, another LN god of death.

    On the Forgotten Realms wiki page it states for Jergal

    "In ethos, Jergal is colder and more inhumane than his master, sanctioning the use and creation of undead by his followers, provided they serve the cause of advancing death in the world. He is not evil or malicious, but impassively records the death of all things."

    So the character's deity said it was ok, she obtained the ability to animate dead using non-evil means, kept her Paladin powers, and stayed Lawful Good. So there are ways to justify a lawful good necromancer that uses animate dead often even in a setting where Animate Dead has the [Evil] descriptor.

    BelgarathMTHChnapyJuliusBorisovlolien
  • OtherguyOtherguy Member Posts: 157
    I feel that a good cleric should never animate dead, unless fighting beholders, where beholders are concerned no rules apply.

    BelgarathMTHleeuxDreadKhan
  • magisenseimagisensei Member Posts: 316
    Should a good cleric even do summons that enter melee?

    Animate dead - is an evil sort of spell - as you are animating a skeleton and that means infusing it with something so that it attacks relatively independently - not something a good cleric would do.

    But you have to wonder about the other summoning spells - calling animals or the higher summons like deva to do battle - is it really okay for a good cleric to call animals and other worldly creatures to fight on behalf of the cleric?

    Unlike the mage spell of summoning lesser elementals - where they have to enter a contest of wills - cleric don't have to battle their summons or should summons have the option of refusing the cleric. Should good clerics have battling summons in the first place? As you are yanking an animal/other worldly creature from their home plane to come to this plane of existence/area and fight for you. Are you not compelling them to do this as they don't have a choice in the matter.

    So are summons in general a type of spell a good aligned cleric would use?

    BelgarathMTHmf2112Rigel
  • KamigoroshiKamigoroshi Member Posts: 4,851
    Whenever animating the dead is morally inacceptable or not for a good cleric fully depends on his/her deity's dogma, period!

    Lathander hates anything dead, undead or deathless that moves and so does his priests. Good aligned clerics of Jergal on the other hand approve of the walking dead as a cheap work force. Many of his high priests are even mummy librarians themselves. Then there are the Mulhorandi pantheon. Take Osiris for example: he's effectively a divine, Lawful Good paladin mummy. His specialty priests in AD&D are even supposed to specificly summon skeletal warriors in order to protect the Old Kingdoms from evil. Not to mention his necromantic paladin order of the deathgrins who battle the forces of Sebek and Tiamat.

    subtledoctorBelgarathMTHJuliusBorisov
  • JumboWheat01JumboWheat01 Member Posts: 1,028
    That is all very true. It really does depend on the deity your worship and who gives you your clerical powers.

    BelgarathMTH
  • rapsam2003rapsam2003 Member Posts: 1,623

    As for Helm, well... his Helmites can certainly do evil things, just look at the original campaign for Neverwinter Nights

    It's worth noting that those were NOT true Helmites, but rather fallen Helmites and cultists working together.

    OT: Well, Tyr and Lathander definitely would NOT think summoning Undead is kosher.

    BelgarathMTH
  • JarrakulJarrakul Member Posts: 2,028
    I've been running a Nordic D&D game lately, where summoned undead are less mindless servants and more fallen warriors given the chance to do battle once more. That's not really in-line with FR lore, but if you want to roleplay it that way, there's no particular reason a good-aligned god would refuse to use them.

    BelgarathMTHPteranmf2112JuliusBorisov
  • AnduinAnduin Member Posts: 5,745
    If no one casts animate dead, I wouldn't get up in the morning...

    Good clerics can. Not all dead guys are evil.

    Basic anti-undead slur spread about by mindflayers to explain away there eating habits.

    Brains indeed...

    BelgarathMTHmf2112mlneveseJuliusBorisov
  • RigelRigel Member Posts: 68
    I have found this old thread that I find very interesting. I am currently playing a Halfling priest of Lathander and have been wondering which spells she would not use.
    I think all summonings are forbidden because as a Lathander priest:
    - You certainly will not create skeletons
    - You will not call animals that will get killed for you

    Generally speaking, I think that Priests of Lathander should focus on the Healing/Buffing side and not really on the offensive side. When they need to fight, they do it, but their main objective is to protect and treasure the life.
    As well, there are other spells that I do not think that she will use, like Harm, Poison, Cause Critical Wounds.

    BelgarathMTHJuliusBorisovArvia
  • shabadooshabadoo Member Posts: 136
    The gods of the dead in most settings despise the undead. They keep the dead, and want them to remain so. Also, there is a difference between "animating" the bodies of the fallen and "create undead".

  • gorgonzolagorgonzola Member Posts: 2,596
    A cleric gets his spells from his god so if a certain spell is given the boss is fine with using it.
    A player can think that how the thing is implemented in the game has little RP sense and act differently, but in the game all the gods have no problem with summoning undeads and grant the spell while for gating devas they seem to care about the priest alignment.

  • BelgarathMTHBelgarathMTH Member Posts: 5,318
    gorgonzola wrote: »
    A cleric gets his spells from his god so if a certain spell is given the boss is fine with using it.
    A player can think that how the thing is implemented in the game has little RP sense and act differently, but in the game all the gods have no problem with summoning undeads and grant the spell while for gating devas they seem to care about the priest alignment.

    I think that's a case of game mechanics, game design, and powergaming trumping roleplay.

    I can't think of a single reason why Lathander would ever approve of one of his clerics summoning a skeleton.

    Also, it's a case of "There's a mod for that." Several modders have tried to fix the game design's failure and lack of cleric spheres based on deity.

    I mean, can anyone honestly say they *roleplay* a Morninglord who summons skeletons every day and doesn't think twice about it, just because "the game mechanics as designed allow it"?

    That's just... the least unflattering words I can think of for it are "dishonest, disingenuous, thoughtless, a rationalization".

    mlneveseJuliusBorisovArvia
  • jmerryjmerry Member Posts: 101
    On Helmites ... Anomen is a (LN) priest of Helm. When recruited, his initial memorized spells include an instance of Animate Dead. Clearly, the game version of Helm finds undead summoning acceptable in service of the greater good.

    RP-wise, I refuse to use that spell as a good cleric. It may still be on Sir Anomen's list after he becomes LG, but he's not going to memorize it if I'm playing.

    gorgonzola
  • gorgonzolagorgonzola Member Posts: 2,596
    gorgonzola wrote: »
    A player can think that how the thing is implemented in the game has little RP sense and act differently, but in the game all the gods have no problem with summoning undeads and grant the spell

    I can't think of a single reason why Lathander would ever approve of one of his clerics summoning a skeleton.
    .............
    Also, it's a case of "There's a mod for that." Several modders have tried to fix the game design's failure and lack of cleric spheres based on deity.
    As Lathander grants the spell it seems that Lathander approves the use of the spell.
    Now a player can think that the game mechanics are badly designed, but somehow set the in game lore.
    And a skeleton is different from a lich or vampire, a summoned skeleton (and maybe every summoned being, but i lack of a proper FR lore knowledge) is not a real being, is something that exist only thanks to magic and as long as magic is active, so is not really evil, is more a tool, like a sword or a gun is only a tool.
    A lich or vampire is a real being that at the cost of loosing or corrupting his soul try to gain more life time and/or power, to deal with such being seems more problematic for a good oriented party.
    and this is true also for other summons or gated helpers, some elemental princes are evil oriented, and other summons are so, should a good priest avoid to summon elementals because there is a chance a evil prince is gated instead?
    and i am not even talking about gating demons, thing that for RP reasons i always don't do in my good or neutral runs.

    I think that there can be many ways to RP the game, and that there are a lot of things more evil then to have your (good) deity give you the power to animate some not sentient bones and use them to pursue your (good) goal that are allowed and often used by the players.
    And this is only my personal way to RP, if an other player feels differently from me, or if he is more involved then me in the FR multiverse lore (as the games are my only interaction with it as i never had the choice to play pnp and never touched a novel based on it), he is free to act differently, modding his game or simply avoiding spells, items and tactics that don't suit well with his feelings and way to RP.

    This is why i think that "dishonest, disingenuous, thoughtless, a rationalization" seems to me a little too excessive, as i have no problem in sacrifying the use of powerful things to my RP feelings and in being true with myself and with the forums users about my choices and their origin.
    If i chose something for power gaming reasons i don't need to rationalize, i do it because i ha<ve more fun in that way and don't feel guilty for not being a 100% roleplayer :smile: .
    But in some instances like this, according to my RP feelings only, i don't see summoning skeleons more evil then most of the things that happen continuously in the game. And i don't feel dishonest in telling it.
    @BelgarathMTH i know that you did not imply that i am dishonest because my opinion differs from yours :wink: , i appreciate your contribution to the forums.
    But i had to make clear that what i wrote in my previous post is my true way to RP the topic, according to my personal feelings and taste, but not corrupted by PG issues.

    JuliusBorisovGusinda
  • ArviaArvia Member Posts: 608
    The argument "it can be done, the game allows it, so it's okay" is not valid, in my opinion. It's the same argument that people use to break into houses and steal everything. I can do that with a paladin without Falling. That's because of game mechanics, not because it's right.
    Skeletons may be neutral (Holy Smite doesn't harm them), but Lathander blesses new life and his priests have several special strengths and abilities to destroy undead, so I see no roleplaying justification for them to create or raise some. It just doesn't make sense.

    It also doesn't make any sense at all to choose a specific class kit to play, but not to accept certain restrictions, either by the game or by your own roleplaying. There can't be only advantages, the game will get boring eventually.

    @Rigel , I also agree with your attitude about summoning animals (or other creatures, for that matter). I don't use summons at all as a good-aligned character, unless it's purely magical like Mordekainen's Sword, or Summon Deva at high levels, which doesn't get killed and just goes back to their plane.
    I don't think it's ethically correct for a good-aligned character, especially a Priest of Lathander of all things, to summon living creatures as cannon fodder and send them to their deaths so that you can run in and fight when your enemies have wasted their powerful spells on them.


    JuliusBorisovBelgarathMTH
  • gorgonzolagorgonzola Member Posts: 2,596
    edited July 1
    Arvia wrote: »
    The argument "it can be done, the game allows it, so it's okay" is not valid, in my opinion. It's the same argument that people use to...
    sorry, but is not quite the same argument.
    it differs because is not " it can be done" but "your deity grants you the power to do it so...", the spells a cleric has are granted by the god he worship and if in the game the god grants some powers it has no sense to assume that the same god has problems with the priest use that power.
    it is your god (as is implemented in the game), not the game itself that allows you to do so.

    a player can argue that this is a bad game implementatation and as i told in my first post is perfectly fine to act accordingly, but this is an other matter.
    in the vanilla game, as the god give you the powers, the spells, the lore is that the god is fine with you using them, if the god dislikes something the power is not granted (a good cleric gets not summon fallen deva or unholy blight) while for arcane magic, thieving skills and other abilities that are not granted directly from the god you are completely right.

  • ArviaArvia Member Posts: 608
    @gorgonzola , and a paladin's abilities are also given by their deity, and it's supposed to be withdrawn if you commit evil acts, and yet the game mechanics don't implement that, but tie it to a certain number of reputation points (in BG at least). So, you can commit various evil acts without Falling.

    The spell Animate Dead was not given by Lathander, it was given by the developers who just put in the cleric spells and only made a few differences between good and evil, and didn't implement specific restrictions according to the deities into the cleric kits.

    BelgarathMTH
  • mlnevesemlnevese Member, Moderator Posts: 9,307
    In P&P a cleric's deity may deny a spell. It isn't rare that Kelemvor will deny raise dead and he certainly wouldn't grant Animate Dead. This part of the mechanic never made it to Baldur's Gate.

    gorgonzolaArvia
  • redlineredline Member Posts: 278
    Count me in the "game mechanics do not excuse lore violations" camp, but I think there are lore-consistent ways to treat this spell as compatible with a good alignment. Aragorn made use of an army of undead, after all; one could consider the raised skeletons as particular lost soul(s) assisting the PC for the sake of redemption, glory, an ancient debt, etc. as opposed to just "the nearest anonymous corpse."

    That interpretation may not be consistent with the actual spell description, though. I'd have to plead ignorance on that front.

    gorgonzolaArvia
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