Every class in D&D has a specialty or fills a niche. Fighters and barbarians take the fight directly to the enemy. Rogues sneak about and strike from the shadows. Wizards and sorcerers are among the most versatile, depending on their selection of spells. In addition to their role as the party's main source of healing, clerics are the first line of defense against the predations of undead. But what happens if your group lacks a cleric or he is incapable of helping out during a fight with these foul creatures? This week, we look at ways to combat undead without the benefit of a cleric at your side.
What Are Your Class Options?
Okay, so you don't have a cleric in your group, or he has been knocked out/captured/possessed by the evil monster. What's your group to do? First off, take a look at what classes your group already possesses. Every class has certain skills, talents, and abilities to face different types of undead. Of course, if you don't have a cleric, everyone should take advantage of some of the following potions and scrolls: cure spells (since you'll lack healers), magic circle against evil (to hedge out undead), remove disease, remove paralysis (against ghouls and ghasts), and lesser restoration/restoration (to heal inevitable ability damage).
The Paladin: If your cleric is out of commission, having a paladin is the next best thing. The biggest concern is her level -- a paladin cannot lay on hands until 2nd level and cannot turn undead until 4th level. However, her detect evil ability helps her locate most undead ahead of time and smite evil works just as effectively on almost all undead as it does on other creature types. Remove disease is particularly handy when you're facing ghouls and other pestilence-spreading undead.
Where your paladin should be in the combat depends on the mix of your group. If you're already heavy on fighters, monks, and barbarians, keep the paladin to the rear where she can use her spells, turn undead, and lay on hands abilities to the most effective use, letting the others do the most melee damage. If you have more spellcasters, rogues, and other support types in your group, the paladin should be in the front line, hopefully bolstered by spells and first using her turn undead effects to take out many combatants early.
In addition to the following class options, you might also consider investing in the following magic items:
Bead of Force, Ring of Force Shield/Protection: Useful against incorporeal creatures. For more on fighting incorporeal creatures, consult here.
Lantern of Revealing: To see invisible undead.
Phylactery of Undead Turning: Especially good for paladins.
Pearl of Power: To regain crucial undead-fightin' spells.
Periapt of Wisdom, Ioun Stones: These items plus any other items that can boost Wisdom, Constitution, and Charisma also boost Will saves, Fortitude saves, and paladin's turning ability.
Shroud of Disintegration: To keep your dead characters from turning into zombies. . . .
Bane and Ghost Touch Weapons and Armor: Very useful against undead.
Armor of Undead Controlling: This item is costly!
Although limited in number, the paladin does possess several spells that are designed for dealing with undead: daylight, death ward, detect undead, dispel chaos/evil, lesser restoration, protection from chaos/evil, remove paralysis, magic circle against chaos/evil, and restoration.
The Sorcerer and Wizard: Obviously, the best way for sorcerers and wizards to tackle undead is to blow them away with a variety of offensive spells or bolster allies with defensive spells such as mage armor (see the Incorporeal Creatures article for more on this). Don't bother with mind-affecting effects or spells that have a Fortitude save. Most undead have poor Reflex saves, so spells that hinder movement, such as animate rope, fog cloud, solid fog, and web, can stop them in their tracks. Boost your paladin's Charisma score with eagle's splendor to raise her Charisma, and thus her turn undead ability. Sorcerers and wizards also have several spells from the necromancy school that can directly affect undead: command undead, control undead, disrupt undead, halt undead, and undeath to death. If you know you're going to fight undead, and you haven't chosen necromancy as your prohibited school if you're a specialized wizard, choose these to help in the fight.
The Druid: If the druid is the sole divine spellcaster in the group, she's the healer by default when fighting undead (and, one of the few classes to have Heal as a class skill). Have her stick to the rear of the group and cast cure spells and other defensive spells to bolster the group. Also, have her order her animal companion to harry undead opponents or keep it to her back to keep her from being susceptible to flank attacks.
The Bard: Bards can cast cure spells, so he is another one of the healers in the group. Most bard abilities don't work on undead, who are immune to mind-affecting effects. Use his spells to augment the group and have him stick to the rear to pelt undead with ranged attacks.
The Ranger: The only particular advantage a ranger can gain against an undead is if he chooses that creature type as his chosen enemy. Otherwise, the ranger should take the fight directly to the undead, using his animal companion to keep his back safe from flanking attacks. The ranger has almost no spells that specifically help against undead, but entangle can help bog down corporeal undead if you're in the right terrain.
The Fighter and Barbarian: If you face undead, make sure that the fighters and barbarians in your group get the benefit of spells and effects that boost their Will save, such as owl's wisdom (to boost Wisdom) if you're fighting incorporeal dead. Also, bear's endurance can augment their already sturdy Constitution scores to reduce the chance of them succumbing to failed Fortitude saves from undead, such as bodaks, ghouls, ghasts, mohrgs, liches, and wights. Be prepared to swap their swords for maces when fighting skeletons.
The Monk: The monk is at major disadvantage when facing undead. Her most effective attack, unarmed strike, comes with great risk against most undead, which have devastating melee attacks themselves. A monk has little to fear against zombies and skeletons (other than regular damage), but she should avoid getting close to wraiths and other incorporeal undead -- stick to ranged attacks, if possible, and have her protect the spellcasters from flank attacks!
The Rogue: Rogues have it the hardest when facing undead, since their key ability, sneak attack, does not function against these types of creatures. They should remain in the rear and use ranged attacks against undead foes, focusing on flanking, if possible. Otherwise, a rogue should stay clear of melee attacks.
Game Resources: To use the material in this article to its fullest, check out the following resources: Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual, Player's Handbook.
About the Author
Eric Cagle cut his teeth at Wizards of the Coast, but now lives the extravagant freelancer lifestyle. Look for his name on D&D, d20 Modern, and Star Wars books. Recent credits include d20 Apocalypse, Races of Destiny, and Monster Manual III. He is also a contributor to the Game Mechanics, Green Ronin Publishing, Dragon Magazine, and this lovely website. Eric lives in Seattle where the coffee is dark and bitter like his goddesses.